Years ago, Don and Laurie Schoendorfer were vacationing in Morocco when they witnessed the plight of a disabled woman struggling to drag herself across a dirt road. Ignored by the crowds and barely evading traffic, the woman’s hardship was a scene the couple would be unable to forget upon their return to life in southern California.
A mechanical engineer and inventor by trade, Don was a Columbia University graduate with a Ph.D. from MIT, working in the biomedical field and responsible for a string of over 50 U.S. patents. After his experience in Morocco, Don began researching the global dilemma of disability in developing countries; soon thereafter, he started tinkering in the basement, developed a durable, safe, inexpensive wheelchair, and eventually walked away from a successful career to found the nonprofit organization Free Wheelchair Mission.
In developing the wheelchair, Don’s goal was to come up with a basic design at an extremely low cost so as to reach the highest number of disabled impoverished people in the shortest possible amount of time. Rather than starting with custom-made components, Don put together a wheelchair using elements already in existence, ingredients currently in manufacture, and parts already being produced, all preferably in high volume – by using this approach, he was able to generate an extraordinarily low cost in gathering wheelchair components.
Especially designed for use in the rugged terrain of rural and under-resourced areas, the FWM wheelchair combines the durability of a resin lawn chair with the strength of a custom steel frame, all tucked into a sturdy pair of mountain bike tires. A recent academic study has shown the wheelchair to be safe and beneficial to users, providing not just mobility, but improved health and quality of life.
Each FWM wheelchair costs just $71.88 to manufacture and deliver to some of the most remote corners of the globe, and is provided at absolutely no cost to the recipient. The FWM wheelchair is manufactured in China for maximum economy, packed in bulk in 40’ ocean-going containers, and shipped directly to the designated receiving country for highest efficiency.
Free Wheelchair Mission’s newest evolution of design, the GEN_2, is a highly adaptable, all-purpose wheelchair created for use in developing countries, while allowing for a healthy, personalized fit. Available in several widths and designed to accommodate a variety of users, the GEN_2 is particularly well-suited for children and recipients with special medical needs. Intended to complement the current program, the GEN_2 successfully passed ISO standards of certification and can be manufactured, shipped and distributed at an economical price point. A careful roll-out and early field testing has resulted in great success for the GEN_2, Free Wheelchair Mission’s latest approach to the dilemma of global disability.