Around the world, there are millions of people with disabilities who require wheelchairs, and a significant number of them are children. Many of these kids have to struggle with awkward devices that are not built for a child’s body, and many don’t have access to wheelchairs at all.
To help address the problem, an organization in Israel called “Wheelchairs of Hope” is embarking on an ambitious program. The program is producing the first wheelchairs designed and built for children, and they’re eminently affordable as well. In a cooperative endeavor, the United Nations (UN), the World Health Organization (WHO), and two Nobel Prize winners are supporting the initiative.
Project co-creator Pablo Kaplan says, “The wheelchair provides mobility. Mobility provides access to education and empowers independence. This is the core of our project.”
Kaplan goes on. “The problem with today’s standard wheelchair is that it is not designed with kids in mind. The current wheelchairs available for kids are merely adult wheelchairs, just reduced in size. Moreover, the look of these wheelchairs is as appealing to a kid as a plate of broccoli. A vital piece of medical equipment, a wheelchair that is both practical and appealing for kids could make all the difference.”
With partner Chava Rothstein, Kaplan approached WHO with an idea for a chair designed especially for kids, using seat designs inspired by amusement parks, and the prototyping capabilities of a 3D printer. The project had a fully functional concept wheelchair complete within six months.
The team was delighted with the efforts. “The results at ALYN Rehabilitation were fabulous,” Kaplan says. “It was very emotional for us because, when the children moved from a traditional chair to ours, they didn’t want to give it back! Parents wanted to buy it on the spot.”
Pilot production sites are currently being established in Tajikistan and the Dominican Republic, and the project is looking at Palestinian Authority for their next site. With these three sites (and more planned!) around the world, the chairs will be able to ship to anywhere in the world for an astoundingly low fee of $100. Their goal is to produce a million chairs within the next decade.
They only remaining hurdle now is funding. The UN and UNICEF are both trying to help in this area, as are Nobel Prize winners Aaron Ciechanover and Sir Richard Roberts, who have helped the organization draft grant proposals to the Gates Foundation.
“We are very enthusiastic and optimistic,” Kaplan says. The videos give you a closer look at the wheelchair and the difference it can make in the lives of kids with disabilities everywhere in the world. What do you think of the design?