Whirlwind International

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) opened the doors of freedom and accessibility for many people with mobility issues and other disabilities. But what of those living in under developed countries or on fixed budgets?

Since 1978, one organization has served wheelchair users around the world helping to design and distribute highly durable and functional wheelchairs. This week’s People of PN shares the stories of two recipients of Whirlwind Wheelchair International’s (WWI) mission of independence through quality mobility for every rider.

Brian Tsai of San Francisco placed the first on-line order in the United States for Whirlwind’s RoughRider earlier this year. He says he first saw and heard about the chair after seeing a PBS news clip. www.whirlwindwheelchair.org/video-gallery/

“I saw the segment and just fell in love,” says Tsai. “Every week for a year I checked their website after discovering that it would become available in the U.S.”

Tsai, who works as a data administrator at Friends of the Urban Forest http://www.fuf.net/ at the Presidio of San Francisco, has partial paralysis from the waist down and considers his chair to be an extension of his legs. His commute takes him past a construction site near his office, which would typically cause havoc on his wheelchair and ability to get to his office.

This day was different as he arrived in his new chair. “I was amazed with how easily and safely I maneuvered around the construction,” says Tsai. “Through dirt, over wood chips, grass, and over a curb right to my office.”

This isn’t Tsai’s first wheelchair. Many wheelchair users often find the craftsmanship doesn’t hold up to the daily rigors of life. “In the early 2000s I was in denial about needing a wheelchair. My sister spent a great deal of money on a top-of-the-line wheelchair for me,” says Tsai. “The springs on that first wheelchair broke right away, and it proved difficult and expensive to replace or repair.”

Some of the features that set this wheelchair apart from others are the stout construction and attention to detail. For many, their daily commute consists of unpaved roads, dirt paths, and sidewalks with no cutouts or high curbs. “I feel like I can really get around. It feels solid and smooth,” says Tsai.

“I also appreciate that my $800 not only gets me a chair, but is buying one for someone in a developing country thanks to Whirlwind’s Buy One Give One (BOGO) offer.”

Whirlwind has a vast network of certified manufacturers who currently produce more than 12,000 RoughRider chairs per year.

Via email, Adriana Trigo Insfran of Luque, Paraguay, South America, explains how she has benefited from receiving a donated chair. She has quadriplegia from a C3 spinal-cord injury. Insfran set a goal of wheeling herself 25 meters (about 25 yards) across a room in a manual wheelchair. “Before, with other conventional manual chairs, I couldn’t do it, I got tired very quickly or I fell.”

After receiving her chair she met that goal and has since become a founding member and the first woman to play on the recently formed wheelchair rugby team of Paraguay. Her friends and family have commented on the resulting increased muscle tone in her upper arms.

Following the first quad rugby practice, Insfran posted the following on her Facebook page: “The only thing I can say is I never imagined I would be able to practice a sport given the circumstances of my injury, but today all that was overturned because I trained like all the others, to the fullest and eagerly.”

She says she would not have been able to participate in wheelchair rugby if she hadn’t received her chair because they use manual wheelchairs for practice and she only had a power chair.

Whirlwind Wheelchair International is a non-profit social enterprise dedicated to improving the lives of people with disabilities in the developing world while also promoting sustainable local economic development in the process.

WWI works to make it possible for every person in the world who needs a high quality wheelchair to obtain one, leading to maximum personal independence and integration into society.

Giving wheelchair riders a central role in all aspects of WWI’s designs and projects ensures their chairs are individually appropriate for each user and his or her respective environment.

For thirty years in over 40 countries WWI has focused on producing durable, low-cost, and highly functional wheelchairs. These chairs give riders the reliable and functional mobility they need to reach their full potential.

WWI’s RoughRider chair is designed to travel over every conceivable terrain, from muddy village paths to rough pot-holed urban streets, and is used by more than 25,000 riders.

In partnership with wheelchair donor/buyers, WWI provided 3,000 RoughRiders in 2008, 3,500 in 2009, and 5000 in 2010. These chairs were produced through a network of regional, quality-certified manufacturers, which currently can produce 12,000 RoughRiders per year. Small wheelchair shops across the developing world produced many more WWI chairs under their public domain licensing program.

WWI is a 501(c) 3 non-profit social enterprise headquartered on the San Francisco State University campus as part of the Institute for Civic and Community Engagement.    

Individuals who do not need a wheelchair themselves can designate a donation of $800 to provide a RoughRider for a U.S. disabled veteran and one for someone in the developing world.

PVA and S’NS/PN do not endorse or recommend products and services. This description is for information only.


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