We often take our ability to move from point A to point B for granted, but for 65 million people around the world, moving without a wheelchair is impossible. Of those 65 million who require wheelchairs for mobility, some 20 million people, including five million children, do not have access to them.
NGO ‘Wheelchairs of Hope’ is aspiring to dramatically change this by designing the world’s first affordable wheelchairs built especially for children. And with with the UN, the WHO and two Nobel Prize winners as backers, it might just be able to get there.
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“The wheelchair provides mobility,” Pablo Kaplan, co-creator of the project tells NoCamels. “Mobility provides access to education and empowers independence. This is the core of our project.”
Having spent more than 30 years in the plastics industry, primarily as an executive at Israeli company Keter, Kaplan sought a project in which he could implement his knowledge of the industry to make a real difference.
Together with his partner Chava Rothstein, Kaplan approached the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva with an idea to make affordable and child-oriented wheelchairs for the disabled.
“The problem with today’s standard wheelchair is that it is not designed with kids in mind,” says Kaplan. “The current wheelchairs available for kids are merely adult wheelchairs, just reduced in size. Moreover, the look of these wheelchairs is as appealing to a kid as a plate of broccoli. A vital piece of medical equipment, a wheelchair that is both practical and appealing for kids could make all the difference.”
Designed with children in mind
With the technical requirements provided by Jerusalem’s ALYN Hospital rehabilitation, Kaplan teamed up with Israel’s Ziv-Av Engineering and Nekuda Design Management to reinvent the children’s wheelchair. Using theme parks around the country to analyze seats built with children in mind, the prototype emerged from a 3D printer just six months after initiating the project.
“We wanted to see the chair with actual patients to see how it would perform on both an emotional level and technical level,” Kaplan tells NoCamels. “The results at ALYN Rehabilitation were fabulous. It was very emotional for us because when the children moved from a traditional chair to ours, they didn’t want to give it back! Parents wanted to buy it on the spot.”
Delivering a chair anywhere in the world
With the help of the WHO, Wheelchairs of Hope signed with the Health Ministries of Tajikistan and the Dominican Republic as future pilot production sites, with the Palestinian Authority being a likely third.
With production sites spanning three different regions, Wheelchairs of Hope will be able to guarantee shipment of their chairs to anywhere in the world for $100. The long-term goal is to produce one million children’s chairs over the next seven to ten years.
For now, Wheelchairs of Hope is at the mercy of funding. Having financed the early stages of the project out of pocket, Wheelchairs of Hope is now looking for further funding in the form of a seed or angel investor.
Wheelchairs of Hope has received massive international support and attention, from the United Nations General Assembly to a spot on UNICEF’s task force for assistive technologies.
With the aid of two Nobel Prize Winners, Israel’s Aaron Ciechanover and the UK’s Sir Richard Roberts, the organization has penned letters to Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation to try and get the chairs rolling.
“We are very enthusiastic and optimistic,” concludes Kaplan. Whether or not the wheelchairs will see mass production remains to be seen.
All photos courtesy of Wheelchairs of Hope