Frequently Asked Questions
Wheelchairs provide mobility, which changes everything: it means independence, the ability to participate in society and earn a living. Mobility means dignity, leaving behind the days of living on the ground. Learn more here.
Why do your wheelchairs look different from traditional wheelchairs?
Our wheelchairs are designed with resources in mind. FWM wheelchairs are built for maximum cost-efficiency with parts that are readily available in the developing world – for example, our wheels look like bicycle wheels because bicycles are available anywhere in the world, along with the parts to repair them.
How is your GEN_1 wheelchair different from a common patio chair?
While the mold we used to shape the resin used in our original GEN_1 wheelchairs looks similar to that of patio chairs, the similarities stop there. We used a specially-designed polymer blend, incorporating UV stabilizers and impact-resistant additives, that allowed our wheelchairs to withstand UV rays from the sun and endure terrain impact in the developing world. Learn more about our wheelchair design by clicking here.
What is Free Wheelchair Mission’s actual mission?
Our mission is to provide the transforming gift of mobility to people with disabilities in developing countries, as motivated by Jesus Christ. See our full mission, vision, and values by clicking here.
What does Free Wheelchair Mission do?
Headquartered in Irvine, California, Free Wheelchair Mission works around the world in partnership with a vast network of humanitarian, faith-based, and non-governmental organizations to give wheelchairs to hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities in less-resourced countries. For as little as $80.00, you can provide not only the gift of mobility, but also the gifts of renewed dignity, independence, and hope, and a message of the love of God.
Learn more about our mission by clicking here.
How long has Free Wheelchair Mission been giving out wheelchairs?
President and Founder Don Schoendorfer produced the original GEN_1 chair in 1999, but as an organization, FWM has been operating under 501(c)(3) status since 2001.
How many wheelchairs has Free Wheelchair Mission given out, and in which countries?
To date, we have given away over 1.2 million wheelchairs in 93 countries. Each month, we provide a Shipping Status Report via our email updates. The report shows where and how many wheelchairs were received in-country during that month.
View the current wheelchair total and distribution map by clicking here.
What does it mean that Free Wheelchair Mission is a 501(c)(3)?
The 501(c)(3) is legal recognition of our status as a not-for-profit organization, allowing those who donate to us to list their donations as tax deductible when they file their returns. In order to qualify for 501(c)(3) status, there are several standards that must be met and maintained. We can neither operate to make a profit nor participate in political lobbying activities. Learn more about our financial management policies and standards by visiting our Financial Accountability page.
What does it mean that Free Wheelchair Mission is an ECFA-accredited nonprofit?
This means that the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) has recognized Free Wheelchair Mission as a Christian organization operating with the highest standards of integrity and transparency. ECFA accredits only those who adhere to their Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship™ which focus on board governance, financial transparency, integrity in fundraising, and proper use of charity resources.
What does it mean that Free Wheelchair Mission is a "faith-based” organization?
Free Wheelchair Mission believes that when Jesus Christ walked among us, He had a special heart for the poor, the sick, and those living with disabilities.
When one of our recipients is seated in a wheelchair for the first time, our hope is that they feel they have been placed gently in God’s hands, wrapped in His love and care. However, we are not affiliated with any specific denomination or church, and we do not allow our partners to deny wheelchairs to anyone based on race, ethnicity, gender, or religion.
Does Free Wheelchair Mission evangelize when distributing wheelchairs?
While we do request that our local distribution partners provide a Christian message along with a wheelchair, not all of them do, as we leave it to their discretion. Whether words are used or not, we believe that a message is delivered through our actions, as the wheelchairs serve as evidence of Christ’s love. Learn more about our mission by clicking here.
How is Free Wheelchair Mission responding to COVID-19?
Our work continues, with all staff working from home since March 11, 2020, to send medical supplies and wheelchairs to the communities we serve, which are often at greater risk when disasters or outbreaks such as COVID-19 strike. Your support of our Medical and Mobility Emergency Fund will help provide these communities with essential medical supplies such as masks, gloves, needles, syringes, blankets, and much more, in addition to mobility-assistance devices and support, including wheelchairs, walkers, and canes. These supplies and mobility aids are distributed through our long-established “Mobility Beyond Wheelchairs” program and are delivered through our extensive network of trusted partners working on the ground in the communities we serve.
Where do your donations come from?
More than half comes from individual donors. Approximately one-third of our donations come from charitable foundations, and the rest is from a mix of churches and civic/corporate donors. To see more details about our finances, click here.
Do you receive funding from any government agencies?
Not directly, but some governments offer support in terms of manpower and logistics.
How much of every dollar goes to wheelchairs / what is a programming percentage?
Charity watchdog and rating websites provide a program percentage, which shows donors how much of each dollar donated goes toward the actual program or service that organization provides versus how much goes towards operating costs. This ratio is affected by how much an organization spends on overhead, management, and fundraising, relative to how much they spend on programs for those in need.
Free Wheelchair Mission is unique in that we pay to manufacture the wheelchairs that we then give away, free of charge. Many nonprofits will have a higher program percentage because they’re not in the manufacturing business; for example, food banks receive donated goods and services that are then given to those in need.
Even though we pay for the manufacturing of our wheelchairs, Free Wheelchair Mission’s program percentage is competitive with those who don’t fund their own manufacturing. Our program percentage for the current fiscal year is 75.5%.
How many staff and volunteers work at Free Wheelchair Mission?
In the spirit of good stewardship and accountability, FWM has a rigorous system in place to ensure that paid staff are hired and retained only as-needed, with volunteers supporting our administrative needs as often as possible. Currently, Free Wheelchair Mission has 29 paid staff (part-time and full-time) and over 2,000 volunteers around the world. A full list of our Irvine-based, paid staff members can be viewed here.
Additionally, our Ambassadors for Mobility program is a national network of volunteers who give of their own time and effort to help raise awareness and funds for Free Wheelchair Mission. More information on the Ambassador program, click here.
Who sits on your board of directors?
A full listing of our staff and board of directors can be found here.
How do you distribute wheelchairs and decide who receives one?
Free Wheelchair Mission does not hand-select recipients for wheelchairs. Individual distribution is left up to our Distribution Partners, who handle everything following the shipping containers’ arrival at the destination port. Our partners are required to sign an agreement that they will give wheelchairs to people most in need - those who don’t already have one and cannot afford one.
Furthermore, we ask that they give the wheelchairs as a gift at no charge to the recipients. Our Distribution Partners send reports on distribution, and we often visit our partners to see their performance firsthand. Learn more about our distribution model by clicking here.
How do you select your Distribution Partners?
Free Wheelchair Mission requires that our Distribution Partners are nonprofits with experience in importing ocean containers. We also require that our partners provide references from other groups for whom they have supplied humanitarian aid by ocean freight. We do not require our Distribution Partners to be faith-based. However, we do require that our partners have a zero-tolerance policy for bribes and have no intention of selling the wheelchairs. Learn more about our Distribution Partners by clicking here.
Can I designate my donation to go to a specific country?
No, but there are cases where we will make an exception – generally when one entity funds an entire container’s worth of wheelchairs and wants to send them to a country where there is an existing partnership.
We’ve found that the vast majority of donors opt for their wheelchairs to go wherever they’re needed most. We do offer gift cards that allow people to designate a continent to send wheelchairs to, but not specific countries.
I need a wheelchair, or I know someone who needs one - can you give them one?
We only distribute wheelchairs through approved Distribution Partners who work in developing countries and can receive and distribute full containers of wheelchairs in their immediate area. Unfortunately, this means that we cannot fulfill any individual requests domestically or internationally.
If you are in need of a wheelchair for someone who lives in the US, please contact our front desk during normal business hours.
Do you give wheelchairs to hospitals and other health organizations?
There are a handful of hospitals and health organizations that we give wheelchairs directly to. For the most part, we let our Distribution Partners determine where the need is most pressing and trust them to act accordingly.
How are the wheelchairs shipped?
Once our wheelchairs are manufactured and packaged, they’re packed into containers of up to 500 wheelchairs each, loaded onto a container ship and sent to the one of the countries where we currently have an active Distribution Partner.
When they arrive, our Distribution Partner pays for all importation fees and overland transport fees to get the wheelchairs to wherever they need to go in-country. Distribution Partners are also responsible for assembling and distributing the wheelchairs to individuals. In many cases, our partners will also negotiate with local governments to reduce or eliminate importation tariffs and duties. As part of our agreement with partners, they must agree to extensive, and ongoing, training on assembly and medically appropriate wheelchair provision.
How much does it cost to ship a wheelchair?
Shipping costs vary based on destination and every country is different. At this point, our volume is not large enough to lock-in rates via contract, so we solicit rates on the open market. We procure free shipping whenever possible. Based on the average of shipping all of our wheelchairs annually, we include the shipping cost in the $80 per wheelchair price.
Why don’t you distribute wheelchairs in the US?
There are several reasons why our wheelchairs are not given away in the United States, the primary reason being that there are already systems in place to help support people in need of a wheelchair. In addition to private health insurance coverage, Medicare and Medicaid are available in the US to help provide for peoples' medical necessities. Whereas options such as these are available in the US, people living with disabilities in developing countries often have little to no options at all.
Free Wheelchair Mission is happy to provide interested parties with a list of wheelchair organizations that distribute within the US if someone has a need. Please call our offices during business hours for a list of organizations that do provide wheelchairs within the US.
What challenges do you face in transporting wheelchairs?
The biggest challenge we face is customs clearance. Wheelchairs are shipped via ocean liner directly from our manufacturer to the recipient country, at which point the Distribution Partner is responsible for clearing the wheelchairs through customs. Since each country has their own unique set of requirements, it's the responsibility of the Distribution Partner to stay informed about local policies and communicate them directly to Free Wheelchair Mission in order to ensure a smooth delivery.
Free Wheelchair Mission works closely with our Distribution Partners, shipping companies, and freight forwarders to manage this process as efficiently as possible.
How much does a wheelchair cost?
The average cost of all three Free Wheelchair Mission wheelchair models is $80, which covers manufacturing and shipping of wheelchairs. We are able to keep the price of our wheelchairs low because of strategic partnerships we’ve developed with our distribution partners, manufacturers, and shipping companies.
What’s the difference between your different wheelchairs - GEN_2 and GEN_3?
The GEN_2 chair is designed for users who have a longer commute, users who need more support due to their disability, and users requiring a smaller fit. GEN_2 is customizable, available in four different widths, and has multiple adjustment points.
The GEN_3 is functionally the same as GEN_2 but can be folded up for storage or easier transportation.
To see a full product comparison of our three models, please click here.
How do you decide who gets which model of wheelchair?
This process is the responsibility of Free Wheelchair Mission’s Distribution Partners. See previous FAQ question “How do you decide who receives a wheelchair?” for more details.
Can I donate an old wheelchair to you?
As much as we admire the generosity of this question, we cannot accept used wheelchairs, wheelchair parts, or other mobility aids since our distribution model doesn’t support these types of donations.
There are a number of great charities that can and will accept used wheelchairs and wheelchair parts to be redistributed to someone in need. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for a list.
Do you train recipients how to use and maintain their wheelchairs?
All Free Wheelchair Mission wheelchairs come with an assembly, maintenance, and usage guide.
Developed by physical therapists, this guide covers the prevention of pressure sores, recovery from falls, and safe methods of transfer in and out of the wheelchair. Each manual contains contact information for Free Wheelchair Mission and our Distribution Partner in the recipient’s area.
Is your wheelchair user's manual available in language other than English?
Yes, it is. We make an effort to provide simple-to-understand instructions and clear visuals for wheelchair assembly. Our wheelchair user manual is currently available in 14 languages. We are always looking for people who are willing to translate our manuals into new languages. If you are interested in potentially volunteering to help us in that process, please email us at email@example.com to find out how to get started.
How long do your wheelchairs last?
An academic study of our wheelchairs reported that, after 18 months of use, 199 out of 200 wheelchairs were still functional (a 99.5% success rate). An internal study monitored 354 wheelchairs over two years, and during this period, only 17 wheelchairs needed any kind of repair. Using a test track at our Irvine office, we are continually conducting tests to further the longevity of our wheelchairs.
Is there a study that shows how well your wheelchairs work in the field?
Yes – in fact, there are two. Both were conducted by Dr. Susan Shore of Azusa Pacific University’s Department of Physical Therapy and cover the quality of life of Free Wheelchair Mission recipients before and after receiving a wheelchair.
Study results concluded, “…recipient evaluation of the Free Wheelchair Mission wheelchair in two different countries has shown a positive, cost-effective benefit to both health and function without unusual risk.” Both studies demonstrated that a wheelchair had positively impacted families and demonstrated a decline in the problems of skin breakdown and pressure sores.
How do you test your wheelchairs for durability?
Our groundbreaking test track, developed in partnership with the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and RPM and Associates, Inc., allows us to test four wheelchairs at once, in a controlled environment, compressing three to five years of field testing in to a few months.
What happens if a wheelchair breaks and needs repairs?
Replacement parts are included in every container, and recipients are provided with their local Distribution Partner’s contact information in the event that repairs are required. Furthermore, our wheelchairs are designed so that replacement parts can easily be located in most parts of the world.
Do you only give wheelchairs? What about other mobility aids?
Free Wheelchair Mission primarily gives away wheelchairs, but through our long-established “Mobility Beyond Wheelchairs” program, we also provide the communities we serve with essential medical supplies such as masks, gloves, needles, syringes, blankets, and much more, in addition to mobility-assistance devices and support, including wheelchairs, walkers, and canes. The demand for these items has grown in response to COVID-19. Your support of the Medical and Mobility Emergency Fund will go towards providing more of these essential supplies to our distribution partners around the world.
How to Help
I would like to do more than donate. What can I do?
There are a number of ways you can extend your support for the gift of mobility.
Volunteers provide indispensable support to Free Wheelchair Mission. Click here for information about volunteering.
One of the easiest way to support us is to spread the word about us on social media. You can like our Facebook page, follow us on Instagram, or subscribe to our blog and forward the stories to your friends.
What is a Free Wheelchair Mission Ambassador, and how do I become one?
An Ambassador is empowered by Free Wheelchair Mission to use their own creativity and passion to represent us. They are part of a nationwide community of people who love our mission and are dedicated to spreading awareness and raising funds.
Ambassadors volunteer at events or at our headquarters. They spread our message at their workplaces, civic groups, schools, sports teams, and social networks. Ambassadors have hosted gatherings, competed in athletic events, held bake sales, played benefit concerts, and built lemonade stands.
Matching your talents or interests with the story of Free Wheelchair Mission is the key to becoming an effective Ambassador. Learn more about the Ambassador Community by clicking here.
Can I go on a vision trip to distribute wheelchairs?
Vision trips are currently suspended due to COVID-19.
How can my church get involved?
We would love to have your church get involved! For more information on churches partnering with Free Wheelchair Mission, click here for church-related resources.
If our church already has a partnership with a group where we want wheelchairs sent, can this be arranged?
We currently only ship wheelchairs to approved Distribution Partners. To learn more about shipping wheelchairs to an international group you are affiliated with, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.