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SFSU President's Medal goes to wheelchair engineer, Ralf Hotchkiss



Denize Springer
SFSU Office of Public Affairs & Publications
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Press Release published by the Office of Public Affairs & Publications


Founder of international non profit recognized for his work in the developing world

SAN FRANCISCO, May 17, 2005 –- Local wheelchair user and engineer, Ralf Hotchkiss, will receive the prestigious President's Medal at San Francisco State University during its May 28 commencement ceremonies. Awardees are selected by SFSU President Robert A. Corrigan, and honored for outstanding contributions to the University and San Francisco that have long-lasting and widespread benefits to SFSU students and faculty.

Hotchkiss is a cofounder of Whirlwind Wheelchair International, a program of the Urban Institute at SFSU. He has traveled to developing countries worldwide since 1980 to train workers to produce wheelchairs custom made for local terrain from local materials. Today, 50 shops that build wheelchairs and provide jobs for those who build them exist in 35 countries throughout Latin America, Africa and Asia.

"Ralf's work is an example of community service and civic engagement taken to a global level," SFSU President Robert A. Corrigan said. "He embodies many of the values we hold dear on our campus: access to opportunity and concern for the world around us."

Hotchkiss was a musician, Merit Scholar and winner of a Westinghouse Science Talent award for his invention of electronic "glasses" for the blind by the time he graduated high school in Rockford, IL in 1965. A year later the young man, whose dream it was to design devices that make life easier for people with disabilities, found himself permanently confined to a wheelchair after a motorcycle accident. Hotchkiss went on to get a degree from Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, then traveled to Washington, D.C., where he became a consumer affairs consultant to Ralph Nader and one of Nader's Raiders.

"In a way, it was lucky that I became disabled," Hotchkiss said, "As a wheelchair user, I have a better idea of what problems need to be solved when building better chairs." An Oakland resident, Hotchkiss is a 1989 recipient of the MacArthur "genius award." He will make his first trip to Afghanistan later this month.

Corrigan will present the medal to Hotchkiss at SFSU's May 28 commencement exercises in Cox stadium starting at 12:15 p.m.

Previous SFSU President's Medal recipients include Senator Dianne Feinstein; philanthropist Richard Goldman; actress Annette Bening; author Ernest Gaines and former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown.



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Last modified May 17, 2005, by the Office of Public Affairs & Publications