Posted July 29th 2011 at 11:12 am by
in Transportation

Reflections on a Summer Spent Designing Wheelchairs in Guatemala

Final Guatemala Wheel Chair Post

Our final wheelchair design. Photo by Juan Carlos Noguera Cardoza.

After spending almost a month and a half in Guatemala, I feel that we’ve accomplished a great deal. Our wheelchair is finished and it is currently being used by Vinicio, one of the guys working in the shop. Besides being extremely light for a steel wheelchair (including the wheels, it weighs only 24lbs!), it has numerous additional features: a 2 degree-of-freedom backrest (which can slide both forwards on the frame as well as extending upwards), a horizontally movable axle, and also, an adjustable footrest.

This wheelchair, while it will probably not go into production, might give the Transitions Foundation some good ideas to implement in other wheelchairs – they can test each of the adjustable features on our wheelchair, and adapt them to the other chairs that they build.

In addition to our wheelchair, we also built an off-road extra wheel attachment, which clips onto the footrest of a wheelchair with a modified pick-up truck part. This attachment, now named the “Transitions U-Ride,” will be going into production, at least for many of the shop guys. After seeing Luis use his U-Ride every day, to and from work, many of the other wheelchair users have expressed their interest in having one for themselves.

Now that I’m back home, I realize just how much this trip has changed my outlook on the world. I’ve had the opportunity of immersion in another culture, while at the same time working with some of the funniest and most creative people I have ever met. Although many of the guys in the shop are paralyzed and wheelchair-bound, they don’t let it hamper their activities in any way. In fact, they are happier and enjoy life much more than most people, disabled or not. Their positive attitude and the closeness of their community – I’d even go as far as to call it a family – is something to be admired.

This experience has also taught me that engineering can have a great impact on peoples’ lives. And it’s not always the most technical or advanced designs that are successful – sometimes having an easy and simple way, for example, for someone to get into and out of their wheelchair can have drastic effect on the quality of their life.

I’d like to sincerely thank the MIT Public Service Center and their donors for providing me this amazing opportunity, and for caring about making a difference.

Post by Paul Lazarescu. This project is supported by the MIT Public Service Center.

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