Case Study: Leveraged Freedom Chair, by Amos Winter, Jake Childs and Jung TakEnabling Freedom for the Disabled in Developing Countries: "
Most able-bodied folks probably don't spend a lot of time thinking about how people with disabilities navigate the world, particularly in developing countries. However, Amos Winter did, and still does. Winter, a recent PhD graduate from the MIT department of Mechanical Engineering, went to Tanzania as part of his work in 2005. He wanted to understand how people who needed wheelchairs got around and how well current wheelchair technology met peoples' mobility needs. Winter's work was part of an internship with Whirlwind Wheelchair International, a group that designs wheelchairs in developing countries. He learned that people in wheelchairs often just didn't get where they needed to go.
In fact, according to the Wheelchair Foundation, it is estimated that the number of people who need wheelchairs will increase by 22 percent over the next 10 years, with the greatest need existing in developing countries. And USAID estimates that 20 million people in the developing world need a wheelchair.
For instance, wheelchair-accessible buildings and roads are rare in countries like Tanzania. Beyond that, individuals must overcome narrow doorways, steep hills, bumpy, muddy roads and long distances to destinations like school -- often upwards of two to three miles. All of these issues combined make it virtually impossible to get anywhere with a conventional wheelchair. Beyond that, they were too expensive for individuals who often can't work due to their disability, or make about $1/day if they do work.
Hand-powered tricycles were the other existing option in developing countries. But they're too large for indoor use and too heavy to maneuver over rough terrain.
In Winter's mind, the chair he wanted to create would offer individuals:
+ Independence - the ability to live with as little assistance as possible
+ Empowerment - the ability to get to where they want to go, when they want to go
+ Access - the mobility that allows them to access resources and employment when these things won't come to them
+ Affordability - a tool that's at a price that they're able to afford