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Hope for Haiti

More than 20 million people in the developing world need a wheelchair right nowMore than 20 million people in the developing world need a wheelchair right now, says Ralf Hotchkiss, co-founder of Whirlwind Wheelchair. "And they need the best of wheelchairs, because they have the worst of terrain, and they go the longest distances." In May he and his colleagues provided more than 300 of the best of chairs to people injured in Haiti’s January earthquake.

More than 20 million people in the developing world need a wheelchair right now

Designer Matt McCambridge is close to the first prototype. The chairs will put handrims in reach of young riders so they can push and turn themselves, and include an adjustable feature to allow them to grow with their chairs. Whirlwind is attempting to raise $46,190 to bring 250 wheelchairs for children to Haiti next summer. Whirlwind is also seeking funding to establish a wheelchair assembly shop and independent living center in Haiti. The dream is a Haitian owned and run facility that could create thousands of RoughRiders and children’s wheelchairs.

In addition to designing chairs, helping distribute them, and offering training on how to adjust and use them, Whirlwind provides plans and trains locals how to build the chair in regional production facilities using readily available parts. Mexico, Vietnam, Turkey and South Africa produce chairs for export and more than 40 other countries are building them for local use. If enough people become builders of the chair, Whirlwind looks forward to a day when they are available in every developing country. Back in SCI 251 Hotchkiss looks down at the RoughRider he is currently using, the newest prototype with a few improvements made on the advice of a network of users and specialists around the world. He uses it at work. He uses it on BART and Muni. He uses it on the rough terrain of Haiti, Nicaragua and Mexico. "I don’t know of another chair I’d rather have," he says.

Donations to buy chairs for Haiti can be made online at www.wheelchairsforhaiti.org


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