Design goals:
  • Develop a basic wheelchair
  • Manufacture it in bulk at the absolute lowest cost
  • Place it efficiently as possible in the least served areas of the globe
  • Deliver a wheelchair to as many people as possible for no cost or obligation
  • Do all this as quickly as possible with a goal of 20 million wheelchairs

Using these guidelines, Don Schoendorfer finalized the first wheelchair design in 2001. This is the beginning of the GEN_1 design.

The components included the following: Illustration of plastic chair

Plastic chair – Don selected the least expensive type he could find – a piece of molded plastic patio furniture from a big box hardware store. Although the final chair now in use has been improved with higher quality plastic and UV protection, the basic chair met his requirements: it was waterproof, durable, drillable, comfortable, washable, simple to locate and easy to manufacture. The plastic lawn chair was a good place to start.

Illustration of bicycle wheelMountain bike tires
– Tire selection was critical in designing the wheelchair. The 24” mountain bike tire was the answer; these tires are tough and durable and allow the wheelchair to traverse uneven, rocky and muddy terrain that would be all but impossible in a traditional wheelchair. The FWM tire is built with a special wheelchair hub and is considerably stronger than the normal model. It was decided to use an inflatable tires that allow movement over areas that would be difficult or impossible with hard tires. Flat tires are easy to replace almost anywhere in the world.

Illustration of castorsCastors – The front legs of the wheelchair use smaller wheels, called castors. Don searched for castors that were especially tough and a little larger than usual. He found an 8” diameter castor that was inexpensive but rugged enough for the wheelchair he was planning.

Illustration of metal frameSteel frame – To hold it all together, he needed a strong frame. The first one was built with steel conduit, shaping and molding to support the components. The prototype was submitted  to a steel fabrication company in Los Angeles called Mark IV Metal Products – there, master fabricator Gonzo Viana used creativity and years of experience to turn th design into something that could be mass produced inexpensively. Mr. Viana came up with a sturdy, replicable steel frame, following the contours of the plastic chair.

Misc nuts and bolts for wheelchairPut them all together and …VOILA!
These parts, plus a few pieces of simple hardware and an assembly tool are all that it takes to make one wheelchair. With the recent addition of a simple footrest for added stability, comfort and safety, the wheelchair is complete, and ready to be shipped around the world.

Shipping in Bulk: Don engineered the manufacture of the chair to include an incredibly efficient and inexpensive way to box the chairs in bulk quantities of 550 in a standard 40’ shipping container. The wheelchairs are shipped unassembled in kits and with the chairs stacked to take up less space.Assembly is done upon reaching the country of origin.

On-site Assembly: Don developed instructions with lots of photographs so that non-English speakers can assemble the kits. FWM supplies the necessary tool kits and air pumps with the chairs. With a little training, someone can quickly assemble one wheelchair in approximately 15 minutes.

Chart of Ingredients for Mobility

Click here to view assembly instructions


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