the free wheelchair mission
One of the critiques of things such as keepod is that access to information technology isn't a straight line to water purification, for example. Hardly a critique I know, but I did read it. However, there has always been a pragmatic streak in people that allows them to figure out problems and solutions – it used to be said of fellows from Saskatchewan farms that they could fix anything with wire and binder twine, a gross gender stereotype no doubt, but not a bad one. Kids growing up on isolated farms in the early 20th century were innovative, practical, used to doing a lot with very little.
Of course today one can look on the web to see how to fix something, but often that seems to be the blind leading the blind: just because there is an app for that doesn't mean you can actually fix the wheelbarrow wheel.
This wheelchair costs $77.91 to manufacture and deliver. Anyone who has dealt with our medical system and CSA approved wheelchairs knows that 'proper' wheelchairs run to thousands of dollars, and my god they are ugly. And they weigh a ton. (Ah well, just looked up the cost of a wheelchair and you can get one for $245 at Costco. Clearly my experience is out of date. Gosh, here is the EZee Life™ Economy for $150. Whatever.)
The Free Wheelchair Mission was started by a biomedical engineer in Californa who developed this wheelchair as 'a basic design at an extremely low cost to reach the highest number of disabled impoverished people in the shortest possible time'. He uses component pieces already being manufactured in high volume, perhaps for something else: mountain bike wheels, plastic garden chairs, nuts and bolts, casters, all manufactured and flat-packed with cartoon-like instructions in China and sent off in containers to sites in need.
Jens Thiel, in 2010, had a website loaded with photos of monobloc plastic chairs used in strange ways – I wrote about them at the time. Thiel's site has disappeared unfortunately, but this designboom entry will do. Is the plastic chair the cheapest and most easily found seat for a wheelchair? Probably, but it also has a look that is not medical, which is perhaps more important. It is a chair first, with wheels. This seems important somehow, that one sits in a chair rather than a dark complex piece of disability kit.
Increasingly, sitting here in one of the G8/G7 countries, I feel locked into technologies that are complex, dark, inaccessible, expensive and not very nice looking. There is a revolution going on that does not extend to the society in which I find myself.