Guest post: Does your wheelchair meet your needs?
My name's Rachael, and I want to talk to you about #HackOnWheels.
I was really shocked to discover how many people need a wheelchair but do not have access to one that meets their needs.
In order to give independence and freedom, a wheelchair must be fully customized to the body, lifestyle and environment of its user. With traditional design, manufacturing and distribution, this comes at a prohibitive price.
the movement to create the first open source wheelchair. Crowd-sourced design challenges
from wheelchair users will put the wheelchair user at the heart of the design
An online library of open source wheelchair designs, with a platform that allows online design collaboration, will drive innovation in the market. A design code for open source wheelchair designs in the online library will ensure that designs can be made from standard parts that are easy to obtain, making it cheaper for wheelchair users to repair their wheelchairs.
Even when people do have access to a wheelchair that has been customized to meet some of their needs, I have yet to meet someone who is totally satisfied. Whether that's because they want to change castor forks for when they are going over different types of terrain or they want their chair to look beautiful, when they're on a night out.
Manufacturers typically use specialist components that can only be bought from them, so if a wheelchair breaks it can be an expensive and long-winded process to acquire the spare parts needed to fix it.
When I was on holiday in Jordan, I visited the NGO Refugee Openware and they showed me a prosthetic hand that they had made for a Syrian boy who had lost his fingers in the conflict. They'd used an open source design to make it that's part of e-NABLE's online design library. They'd customised it to fit and adapted it so it looked like Ben10's hand because the boy was a huge fan of the cartoon. It had been 3D printed on a domestic printer and only cost them $39 to make!
I was really excited by e-NABLE because what started with just one design has grown into a library as people have improved and adapted the design and shared their work. There's a hand for holding a violin bow and one for holding playing cards. These are the sort of highly customised products that would rarely go to market and if they did would have a huge price tag.
I asked whether anyone was doing anything similar with wheelchairs and they said they weren’t.
What inspires me, is that when wheelchair users, hackers, designers and makers hear about #HackOnWheels they want to get involved. I’ve been contacted by people literally all over the world who want to help. Whether it's by spreading the words, sharing ideas, coming to hackathons or developing designs, it’s the #HackOnWheels community that is turning the idea into a reality and that’s incredibly exciting.
I'd love to hear your thoughts!
What do you think of your wheelchair? Does it meet your needs? Have you been hugely out of pocket when buying it, or replacing parts on it? What would you want to change?