PLASTIC OVERCOMING OBSTACLES
Don Schoendorfer had seen a disabled woman pulling herself off a dirt road, taking a holiday in Morocco when she saw that the crowd didn’t care and barely crossed traffic. Schoendorfer later learned that in developing countries, an estimated 100 million people with disabilities need wheelchairs, but cannot afford them. These injuries were caused by a variety of causes, including illness, lack of vaccination, medical assistance, armed conflict and injuries. Schoendorfer, who could not forget the struggle of the Moroccan woman, decided to do something about it.
As a mechanical engineer and inventor, he decided to devote himself to this goal. The aim sprouted as soon as possible, creating a basic, cost-effective, reliable wheelchair to reach people with disabilities and poor people. Aiming to use existing and widely available materials, Schoendorfer combined the durability of the plastic lawn chair with a steel frame and a pair of durable mountain bike tires.
To produce and distribute these wheelchairs, Schoendorfer founded the association Free Wheelchair Mission, a non-profit organization in Irvine California. Since 2001, FWM has been distributing wheelchairs to more than 80 developing countries worldwide by local partners. How much do you think the total cost of manufacturing a wheelchair and delivering it to the far corners of the world? About $ 64. Buyer’s cost? Zero dollars.
Made of sturdy polypropylene plastic, the chair carried people of various sizes comfortably. And Schoendorfer’s priorities were; being waterproof, durable, comfortable, washable, being easy to find and easy to produce, as well as functional enough to cross the uneven, rocky, muddy terrain of the wheelchair.
He chose 24 inch inflatable mountain bike tires. (Most bicycle tires are actually made of various plastics and elastomers, such as nylon and butyl rubber.) These heavy-duty tires were easily repairable when needed. In addition to the wheelchair, an inflating pump and patch kit were also provided in case the tires were damaged and the air escaped. A pair of eight-inch plastic wheels in front of the chair provided direction.
The wheelchair also had a polypropylene plastic base plate, which can be adjusted to the length and disability of the receiver, and a plastic foam pad to help prevent pressure sores caused by long seating sections. In 2016, Schoendorfer also created a new model, a priority for the second generation and children.
With 24 official employees and more than 2,000 volunteer employees worldwide, the Free Wheelchair Mission (FWM) was a gift to more than 620,000 people in need. We would like to see such initiatives in our country.