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As one in the North-American mobility industry, as well as one with a disability myself, I know all too well the difficulties that many face toward obtaining much needed manual and power wheelchairs in a restrictive insurer funding climate.

However, I've recently found myself again reminded that obtaining mobility products isn't a North-American issue, but a global one. And, while we seek funding for power wheelchairs with greater capabilities in North America, those with disabilities in the Developing World continue struggling to secure a wheelchair, period. Truly, when we consider that those of us in North-America complain about receiving a 6 mph power wheelchair instead of an 8 mph package, whereas those in developing countries go without any wheelchair whatsoever, the clarity of perspective is striking.

Fresh out of college, a foursome of engineers and designers have founded the nonprofit organization, Intelligent Mobility International, intended to bring low-cost, durable, sustainable mobility to the Developing World.

The group started the project with a very elementary question: What does virtually every developing country have as transportation?

Bicycles, of course and lots of them. From there, the commonalities between wheelchairs and bicycles came together: Metal tubing, wheels, and bearings, to name a few components. Could existing bicycles, then, be turned into extremely durable, low-cost wheelchairs?

As Intelligent Mobility International proves, the answer is, absolutely. By taking two bicycle frames and applying a total of four cuts, a wheelchair frame is born. Of course, welding, upholstery, and other material processes are needed; however, recycling two bicycle frames and using their existing geometry and components to create a manual wheelchair is an ingenious concept and it works.

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The result is a practical, durable, low-cost wheelchair that can be manufactured and maintained in developing countries. To produce the wheelchairs, Intelligent Mobility International is helping set up an infrastructure in countries like Guatemala, where bicycle shops and those with disabilities can work together in the process. In fact, fabrication is designed to be both practical and accessible, where jigs allow someone with one arm to participate. Presently, the cost to fabricate one of Intelligent Mobility International's wheelchairs in a developing country is $150, which they're currently striving to lower to $40, a more realistic price.

It's a big world out there, and it's inspiring that young people on a mobility mission are looking to make a difference through cultural awareness, ingenuity, and dedication. For more information, please visit Intelligent Mobility International's web site.

Published 10/08, Copyright 2008,