I’ve mentioned the Collaboratory at Messiah several times, but I’ve rarely talked in-depth about my project. Seeing as I graduate in less than a week, I’ll be stepping away from being quite so involved in this project, but I want to take some time to actually highlight what my team and I have been up to.
If you would like to watch the 25-minute presentation my team and I did on this project, you can click here and go to the 3-hour mark. It will talk about a lot of the same things I do here, just more in-depth.
For the past two and a half years, I’ve had the privilege of working on a project with some amazing people. We’ve been working alongside an amazing partner, who already does some really amazing things. That being said, our partner has been Joni and Friends. More specifically, their outreach: Wheels for the World. Joni and Friends in general does a lot for disability resources, while their Wheels for the World outreach sends wheelchairs to communities in need all over the world. If you have time and want to know more, check out the links above to see some of the amazing work they do.
Wheels for the World is a non-profit that works off by receiving donated wheelchairs, refurbishing them (if necessary), and sending them out on their outreaches. At one point, Joni Eareckson Tada, the founder of Joni and Friends, expressed the need for them to be able to distribute a wheelchair that could be used on rougher terrains. That’s where we came in; our goal is to design a chair that they can produce themselves, to be sent out on these outreaches.
Also, if you have the time to check out Joni’s story a little more, I strongly advise it; her story is amazing.
So for the past two and a half years, I’ve been helping design a wheelchair. And, well, we’re almost done. We’ve gotten most of the design work finished and are hoping that this summer, they will be able to produce their own version of it at one of their centers and test it and give next year’s team feedback. So here’s what we’ve made.
It may look relatively simple – and in some ways, it is – but that’s part of the goal. Rather than getting into the technical, engineering jargon and boring at least half of you, I’ll just highlight what sets us apart.
- Adjustability – We’ve tried to make just about everything on this wheelchair adjustable. The goal is that a single design can fit any age, any size user. Additionally, if a child is using it, it can be adjusted over time to continue to fit him or her for an extended amount of time. So the seat can go up or down and tilt forwards or backwards, the armrests can be moved up or down, the wheels can be set more narrow or wider, the footrest can be moved forwards or backwards and be tilted up or down; just about everything can move to adjust to the needs of a user if necessary.
- Collapsibility – This one is closely related to adjustability, but I’ll explain it anyway. If the user has a need to use public transportation, be it bus or taxi or anything else, it may be necessary to pack this wheelchair as small as possible. We’ve made it that pins can be rotated and removed to detach the wheels and footrest in a matter of seconds. In addition, the seat itself can fold down and additionally reduce the size.
- Off-Road Use – Most wheelchairs are not very practical to use off-road, so we had to find a way to make it possible. The wheels itself are basically just bicycle wheels with a good tread so they can be used on varying surfaces. Probably one of the biggest highlights of the chair, is our own shock absorber (shown below). This was really impressive work from one of the team members. He single-handedly designed his own shock absorber because any shocks we could have bought did not fit what we needed or were too expensive. Designing our own and implementing it on our wheelchair helps to soften some of the impacts the user may experience on bumpier surfaces.
- Three Wheels – In the above picture, you may notice that we only have three wheels on the chair. We found we could get the same stability as a normal wheelchair by using three wheels and locating the seat in the middle. In the even that it tips forward, the footrest has a plate on the bottom to help it skid and catch the wheelchair’s tip instead of launching the rider out of the seat.
- Price – I save this for last because this is our real kicker. Now, you can find some very basic wheelchair for a couple hundred dollars, but they typically won’t hold up for very long and certainly can’t be used off-road. Some of the higher-end manual chairs cost around the $700-$900 range. Some regular off-road chairs cost upwards of $2,000. From talking with some individuals and conducting our own research, some high-end chairs that are custom fit to a user can cost in the range of $10,000. Through being selective with what we’re using, we’ve managed to fit the price to $225. If we can maintain this price, Wheels for the World will be able to mass-produce these chairs and sent them around the world.
I don’t write any of this to brag or to even try to get feedback right now, I’m just proud of this work. I’m proud of the team I’ve been able to lead, excited for what we’ve done, and even more excited to see where the project goes without me as a student leader of it. They say that the best leaders will line it up so that the leader who comes after them will be even better. I can’t speak for whether or not the title of “one of the best” fits me, but I have absolutely no doubt that the leadership in place for next year will take this project to amazing places.
It’s strange and sad to be stepping back, but I know I’ll ever be completely leaving this project, and I’m hoping that it can have a lasting impact on the lives of others.
So thankful that God gave me the opportunity to work on this project, alongside amazing people, and to try to do it all for His glory and kingdom.
We have a theme verse on the team that hangs from our work locker, and I think it’s a fitting way to close this post:
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
– Philippians 2:3-4
To God be the Glory.