Posted by James F. Smith March 8, 2010 03:27 PM
In Uganda, wheelchair user and activist Fatuma Acan tests the lever-powered wheelchair with Amos Winter, in blue t-shirt, and student Tish Scolnik, in MIT cap.
I wrote in the Globe today about the work of Amos Winter, a doctoral candidate at MIT who has devised an innovative wheelchair for use in developing countries. This blog entry offers links to a number of useful resources in this daunting field.
Winter, a 30-year-old New Hampshire native, is testing a prototype of his lever-powered wheelchair in three African countries. He hopes it will prove easier for wheelchair riders to use in rugged, hilly terrain than traditional hand-rim chairs.
Amos's MIT web site is a great resource on his work. And here's the on-line catalog for the course he teaches at MIT in wheelchair design. He also founded a lab at MIT for mobility projects, called the M-Lab, which in turn is part of the innovative D-Lab of senior lecturer and inventor Amy Smith, which develops low-tech, low-cost sustainable technology.
I spoke with three of the testers, in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, and their response was uniformly positive. Winter soon will head to Guatemala for more testing of 30 more chairs, and hopes that the device he calls the "Leveraged Freedom Chair" could go into wide production with a couple years.
Readers responded with great admiration for Winter and his work, judging by the on-line comments posted with the story on Boston.com. Also be sure to see the video on Winter's project by Globe staffer Dina Rudick, below, and the cool interactive graphic by Javier Zarracina and Aaron Atencio.
Some people noted that powering a wheelchair with levers is not a new idea (and I did note that in the article). This Wheelchair Pride blog entry provides links to many of the existing lever-driven chairs. Many of those chairs are fairly pricey, however, and lack the simplicity of Winter's chair -- which he hopes to sell for about $200, similar to other basic chairs sold in the Third World.
But wheelchair design is complicated, as guru Ralf Hotchkiss told me. The engineering challenges are surprisingly daunting -- and mistakes can cause or aggravate serious problems such as pressure sores. Here are a few useful links to organizations doing noteworthy work in this field.
Hotchkiss founded Whirlwind Wheelchair International, a pioneer in the field. The site is a great resource for background information.
Another major international advocacy group is Motivation Charitable Trust, in the UK, which provides a range of products and services to increase mobility for physically disabled people in the Third World. Like Whirlwind, Motivation also works in Africa with some of the groups that Winter has worked with for the past five years.
In Nairobi and elsewhere in Kenya, a major ally is the Association for the Physically Disabled of Kenya, which produces wheelchairs in great numbers.
In Uganda, see MADE Uganda, short for Mobility Appliances by Disabled Women Entrepreneurs. And in Tanzania, several organizations are based in the northeastern town of Moshi, including the Tanzania Training Centre for Orthopaedic Technologists (TATCOT), and the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center.
About this blog
Worldly Boston is James F. Smith's report on people from our community who are making an impact in the world, and on people from abroad doing noteworthy things in Greater Boston. We live in the most global of communities. Worldly Boston helps share those stories.
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About James F. SmithJim Smith came home to his native Boston in 2002 to become the Boston Globe's foreign editor after spending 22 years abroad. He was previously based in Buenos Aires and Mexico City for the LA Times, and in Johannesburg, Tokyo and The Hague for the AP. In 2007 he became the Globe's national political editor, coordinating presidential campaign coverage. He is a Yale graduate, and has an MBA. He is married to Maxine Hart and has two sons, Matthew and Daniel.
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