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Campus Beat

RoughRider Rolls Out

A photo of a RoughRider wheelchair. Photo by whirlwind wheelchair internationalPhoto by Whirlwind Wheelchair International

Inside Science 251, a workshop filled with bolts, ball bearings and wheels, Marc Krizack unfolds a RoughRider wheelchair and raises it above his waist. "This chair is designed to be dropped from the height of a car trunk," he says. "Even in the worst conditions in developing countries, you aren't going to make this break."


The chair is the latest model from Whirlwind Wheelchair International, a program of the SF State Institute for Civic and Community Engagement. Whirlwind creates wheelchair designs specifically for people in developing countries, where a typical day can involve traversing steep curbs, rocky roads, muddy fields and other treacherous terrain. "Wheelchair riders are always looking down at the ground in front of them, making sure they don't run into something," says Krizack, Whirlwind's director of operations. "Once they don't have to do that, their lives change."


Wheelchairs are manufactured in Whirlwind workshops in more than 20 developing countries on nearly every continent—all by the hands of residents who use locally available parts and materials.


Whirlwind cofounder Ralf Hotchkiss, a MacArthur "Genius" award recipient, designed the RoughRider with colleague Chris Howard. The wheelchair has mountain bike tires in the back and front wheels with a wide, flexible tread that glides over soft or uneven ground. Toe protectors shield bare feet from rocks and other debris.


Earlier this year, the RoughRider was nominated for an INDEX: AWARD. The prestigious international competition honors designs that have the capability to substantially improve people's lives.






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