Like any true Oregonian, I get excited over people recycling. With America on its green kick, recycling is becoming more and more common to see in organizations. But Free Wheelchair Mission takes recycling to a new level with their unique idea of using old bicycles and lawn chairs to provide much needed wheelchairs to the disabled in developing countries.
Free Wheelchair Mission (FWM) began in 1999, when founder Don Schoendorfer put his plan into action to help the people he’d visited in Morocco twenty years earlier. Schoendorfer, who has his PhD in Mechanical Engineering, came up with the design for a simple wheelchair that could handle the uneven, rural roads and was inexpensive to produce.
The average cost for a manual wheelchair ranges anywhere from $200 to $1100. Free Wheelchair Mission has figured out how to produce and ship wheelchairs for $52, and with no cost to the disabled person receiving it. With $52, FWM is able to provide mobility and restore dignity for the over 100,000,000 disabled adults and children in developing countries, giving them a chance at a better life. FWM sends wheelchairs to the disabled in five different continents and 74 different countries.
The wheelchair is made up of everyday recycled items lying around the average American’s home. The seat is made out of an old plastic lawn chair. This is perfect because it’s durable, waterproof and moderately comfortable for long periods of time.
Drilling holes into the arms and legs allows it to be mounted on to the frame. The wheels are made from recycled mountain bike wheels. FWM uses a different wheelchair hub than what is found on most mountain bikes, making it considerably stronger. The mountain bike wheels give the wheelchair mobility through rough terrain. Eight inch castors are used for the front wheels, and the frame is made from bendable steel conduit. Volunteers assemble the wheelchair onsite after delivery.
In 2004, the wheelchair was upgraded by a new wheelchair supplier, now providing side panels that protect from anything kicked up from the moving wheels. The new design also includes hand-rims on the wheels, making it easier and cleaner for the user to move. There is now a footrest to make it easier to get in and out of the wheelchair, and the axle is larger, making the chair more durable and propel easier once in motion. The new additions to the wheelchairs didn’t cost FWM any more money to produce, a very exciting discovery for the company.
I never realized how many people in the world were in need of a wheelchair. We always worry about the hungry and homeless in impoverished nations, but the immobile seem to slip under the radar. A disabled adult or child in a developing country is forced to crawl to get around, or wait for family members to carry them. I definitely take for granted my mobility and the technology we have access to in our nation for those who are disabled. Free Wheelchair Mission is really a great cause that provides a huge need in the world.
Check out Free Wheelchair Mission’s website.