Four out of five people with disabilities live in less-developed countries, and an estimated 20 million of them need wheelchairs right now.
Ralf D. Hotchkiss is technical director of Whirlwind Wheelchair International (WWI), which coordinates and assists a network of independent wheelchair builders around the world. Begun in 1980 by Appropriate Technology International and now housed at San Francisco State University, WWI promotes the local production in less-developed countries of affordable and reliable chairs by wheelchair riders themselves.
Hotchkiss, who was named a MacArthur Fellow for his work, is an active spokesperson for WWI; the following text has been adapted with permission from 1998 Medical and Health Annual © 1997 by Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. See also his essay in The Sciences (July/August 1993).
A typical Western hospital chair is designed for gentle use on smooth floors. Its short-lived components must be regularly replaced with expensive parts from a factory. If a hospital chair is imported into a Third World community, it can quickly become useless because replacement parts are not available. Dumped chairs can be seen rusting by the hundreds behind hospitals.
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