Wheelchair nonprofit gets grant
November 11, 2009 1:34 PM
Whirlwind Wheelchairs, a nonprofit organization at SF State that's building devices for disabled people in developing countries, received a $4.8 million grant late in October, the largest in the charity's history.
The founder and chief engineer, Ralf Hotchkiss, has worked for 30 years to establish small local manufacturing shops in places like Africa, Nicaragua and Asia, for people with disabilities who need assistance.
"Because of our extensive work in the developing world, we have a wide network of relationships with various disabled persons organizations," said Keoke King, who wrote his master's thesis on Whirlwind and who works closely with Hotchkiss, helping to market the organization.
Whirlwind has set up small shops in dozens of countries, often employing wheelchair users in producing the wheelchairs. This grant will help them build on previous work over the last 20 years with a goal of helping people achieve maximum independence in their societies.
According to the World Health Organization, 20 million people in the world live with disabilities and without devices to assist them. Of the 20 million, 70 percent of them live in rural environments.
"We know people in all of these places that will help us understand the best ways to get the devices people need out to them in the most effective way," King said.
"There is a lot of room for students to get involved," said Mickey Kay, a student taking Engineering 620 through the College of Extended Learning to learn how to maintain his own wheelchair. "It's a nonprofit and they always need marketing and outreach."
The first phase of the research project is to extensively review the distribution methods for assistive technology, including wheelchairs, hearing aids, canes and prosthetics, in other countries. In later phases Whirlwind will conduct demonstration projects which will implement and test their model.
"We are actually carrying out SF State's social values and applying them to real life," King said.
Whirlwind's RoughRider wheelchair design has been recognized in the book, "Design Revolution: 100 Products that Empower People" and has been built to survive the toughest of terrains, according to Hotchkiss.
The class meets on Tuesday evenings in the Science building to weld parts and draft blueprints for designs. Using technology like treadmills with built-in bumps, the students test wheelchairs built in the lab and chairs sent in from other locations.
Laura Hunt, 23, a senior in cultural anthropology studies, is taking the class as part of her interest in humanities. "We are a diverse group of people moving toward the same goal," Hunt said. "And I think that mobility is a human right."
To learn more visit http://www.whirlwindwheelchair.org.
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