Frequently Asked Questions
  1. Describe Free Wheelchair Mission in a nutshell.
  2. Is there really a need for wheelchairs?
  3. What is Free Wheelchair’s current status in wheelchair distribution?
  4. How much does a chair cost?
  5. How much does a recipient pay for a wheelchair?
  6. Where are the FWM wheelchairs manufactured?
  7. Why aren’t wheelchairs given away in the United States?
  8. Do you take used wheelchairs? Why not?
  9. How do you decide who gets the wheelchairs?
  10. How long does a wheelchair last? What if something on the wheelchair breaks?
  11. Have there been any academic studies that show the validity of the FWM wheelchair?
  12. Does the overseas FWM distribution partner share any of the expenses for a container of wheelchairs?
  13. How many volunteers does FWM have?
  14. How many staff members does FWM have?

1. How would one describe Free Wheelchair Mission in a nutshell?
Free Wheelchair Mission is a humanitarian, faith-based, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing wheelchairs free of charge to people with disabilities, living in poverty in developing nations. Working in creative partnership with a network of like-minded groups, FWM has sent wheelchairs to hundreds of thousands of people around the world, delivering not only the gift of mobility, but those of dignity, independence, and hope.

2. Is there really a need for wheelchairs?
It has been estimated that 100 million people living in the developing world suffer with walking disabilities yet have no access to wheelchairs due to poverty and economic isolation. Denied this most basic means of mobility, some crawl on the ground, subjecting themselves to dangerous, unsanitary conditions in order to maintain their independence. Others spend most of their lives in isolation, confined to a single room, and dependent upon family members’ help to meet their most basic needs.

3. What is Free Wheelchair’s current status in wheelchair distribution?
To date (May 2012), FWM has distributed over 640,000 wheelchairs to 84 countries.

4. How much does a chair cost?
The FWM wheelchair costs $71.88 to manufacture, ship, and distribute.

5. How much does a recipient pay for a wheelchair?
Nothing. Wheelchairs are distributed to our beneficiaries absolutely free of charge.

6. Where are the FWM wheelchairs manufactured?
FWM utilizes two factories in Shanghai, China. These factories build the wheelchairs and prepare them for shipment, disassembled and stacked for greatest efficiency, in 40' oceangoing containers of 550 units each.

7. Why aren’t wheelchairs given away in the United States?
There are several reasons why wheelchairs are not given away in the United States. Distribution in North America and in the European Union are restricted because of both insurance and ISO certification restraints; the same design elements necessary to properly and efficiently navigate the rugged rural and urban terrain of developing countries move the FWM unit outside the parameters of stateside wheelchair standards.

In addition, it is consistent that within the U.S., the majority of people who need a wheelchair will most likely be able to somehow receive one, despite their level of poverty. In addition to private health insurance coverage, Medicare and Medicaid are available in the U.S. to help provide wheelchairs; there also exist organizations within in the U.S. that work to distribute wheelchairs to the needy, including the Wheelchair Foundation and Joni and Friends. The safety net of social services is in place for the majority of Americans. However, in many developing countries, this is often not the case. Even the dream of a wheelchair is far beyond the hopes or expectations for many of the impoverished disabled living in underserved regions of the world.

FWM is happy to provide interested parties with a list of wheelchair organizations that distribute within the U.S., should they contact the home office for information.

8. Do you take used wheelchairs?
        No. 
    Why not?

Our organization was founded upon the unique design of Dr. Don Schoendorfer’s wheelchair – its sturdy, inexpensive design is the cornerstone of our work. The chair is well-suited for rural, rugged terrains and is specially designed for lasting usage within the unique specifications of the developing nations to which we ship. We can refer people to many great organizations here in the states that do take used wheelchairs, including Joni and Friends and Wheels Around the World.

9. How do you decide who gets the wheelchairs?
Free Wheelchair Mission carefully qualifies its distribution partners, engaging in extensive research and working hard to ensure that approved partners are capable of properly carrying out the mission and distributing the wheelchairs fairly. It is then the role and responsibility of the approved partner organization to give the wheelchairs to the individuals it determines as truly needy. The specifics may vary from partner to partner, but FWM suggests that the following five basic standards are met:

  1. The physical condition of the individual prevents him or her from walking at this time;
  2. The individual cannot afford to buy a wheel chair due to poverty;
  3. The individual is not in possession of a wheelchair;
  4. The individual is believed by the distributor, and the family or personal friends of the individual interviewed by the distributor’s representatives, to be physically and mentally capable of using and benefiting from wheelchair; and
  5. The individual has sufficient support from relatives or friends so that assistance is available to the individual with respect to his or her use of the wheelchair.

10. How long does a wheelchair last? What if something on the wheelchair breaks?
An academic study of our wheelchairs reported that after 18 months of use, 199 wheelchairs out of 200 were still functional.

One method we utilize to determine wheelchair longevity is to test sample wheelchairs on a regular basis. We test with 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of weight for 200,000 cycles on a ISO standard double drum tester for a month each at our manufacturing facilities to ensure their durability. This amount of stress is estimated to be the equivalent of five years of use in a developing country.

In the event that there should there be a need for repairs, the chair was designed such that replacement parts can be found in many parts of the world.

Of interest, if was found that on second and third distributions of chairs in several countries, recipients from previous distributions were still using the chairs (even several years later).

11. Have there been any academic studies that show the validity of the FWM wheelchair?
Yes. A published study of 12/1/08 by Dr. Susan Shore of Azusa Pacific University compared the quality of life in FWM recipients before and after receiving a wheelchair; study results concluded a significant positive shift in the areas of quality of life, impact on health, and change in life function. Recipients also reported favorable feedback on repair statistics and monetary costs. There was shown a strong favorable response that the wheelchair had positively impacted families, and a decline in the problems of skin breakdown and pressure sores. Overall, the study revealed for the recipients positive, cost-effective benefits to health and life function and participation without unusual risk. View Study

12. Does the overseas FWM distribution partner share any of the expenses for a container of wheelchairs?
Yes. Once the container of wheelchairs hits the closest sea port and is unloaded off the freighter ship, the distribution partner assumes both financial and logistical responsibility. D.P.’s work with local officials to clear customs, then arrange to transport the container safely from point of arrival to specific destination. The costs vary, depending on factors including country of destination, distance from sea port to destination site, and unforeseen complications.

13. How many volunteers does FWM have?
FWM is supported by over 2,000 volunteers worldwide.

14. How many staff members does FWM have?
FWM currently has 24 full and part-time staff members working in our Irvine headquarters in southern California.

 

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