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Whirlwind Wheelchair International


Whirlwind Wheelchair International makes mobility, independence, and employment a reality for people with disabilities in the developing world. Whirlwind provides technical assistance to existing wheelchair manufacturers to improve their products, or starts up new wheelchair manufacturing facilities that are owned, managed, and run by local residents or disability organizations that use locally available materials in wheelchairs that are easy to repair. Open-source designs are not patented and are kept in the public domain so production costs remain low.


National and international organizations have consistently recognized and honored the contributions of Whirlwind Wheelchair International. To date, Whirlwind-designed technology has been taken to more than 50 countries on five continents, and sturdy, low-cost, maneuverable Whirlwind wheelchairs have provided mobility to thousands of disabled citizens in their communities.


During 2006–2007, Whirlwind's major activities included:

•  Whirlwind was named one of the top design firms from around the world in the INDEX: AWARD 2007 competition.

•  Successfully completed user testing of a fully adjustable children's wheelchair that can grow with a child from ages 4 to 10/12.

•  Worked as consultants to the World Health Organization (WHO), writing guidelines for the production, distribution, and maintenance of wheelchairs in “less resourced settings.”

•  Completed illustrated 59-page Wheelchair User's Manual to accompany each Whirlwind RoughRider distributed around the world.

•  Launched the Whirlwind Franchise Program, which seeks to rapidly scale up the number of Whirlwind-designed wheelchairs produced around the world with an annual goal of 30,000 by 2010.


Founded in 1989 as the Wheeled Mobility Center by SF State Engineering Professor Peter Pfaelzer and paraplegic engineer and wheelchair designer Ralf Hotchkiss, Whirlwind grew out of Hotchkiss's work traveling the globe designing wheelchairs that could be built in developing countries from locally available materials. Hotchkiss won the prestigious MacArthur “genius” Award for this work. Wheelchair construction classes are offered at San Francisco State University through the Department of Engineering and the College of Extended Learning.


Whirlwind is partnering with a number of Foundations, non-profit organizations, and for-profit businesses to promote high quality, high volume production of Whirlwind designed wheelchairs. These organizations include the Arthur B. Schultz Foundation, which helped Whirlwind launch the Whirlwind Industrialization Project, the predecessor to Whirlwind’s current Franchise program, Whirlwind also partners with BMVSS Company of Jaipur, India, which makes the world famous Jaipur Foot, and private manufacturers in South Africa and Vietnam, among many others.

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