MIT Engineer Creates Wheelchair for the Disabled in the Developing World
According to the World Health Organization, more than 65 million people in the developing world are in need of a wheelchair. The majority of them live in rural areas that lack paved roads, sidewalks and ramps. Such areas are typically not wheelchair friendly, at least not for the traditional wheelchair.

Faced with the task of designing a chair that could tackle difficult terrain but is also cheap, easy to build and locally repairable, MIT engineer Amos Winter created what is now known as The Leveraged Freedom Chair (LFC).

The LFC’s design in comparison to a standard wheelchair is best described through an analogy. A wheelchair as we in the developed world know it to be is most similar to a classic street bicycle. On the other hand, the LFC is comparable to a mountain bike. Designed for rough and rugged travel, the LFC (like a mountain bike) allows riders to shift gears depending on the level of torque they need for a given journey.

The LFC is now distributed through the Global Research Innovation and Technology team (GRIT). It comes in three sizes — small, standard and large — and is sold in bulk for NGOs, governments and aid agencies that then supply them to individuals. Each chair costs about $200, which is much cheaper than the average manual chair, which can run as high as $800.

The LFC has been distributed throughout 17 developing countries and has helped more than 1,500 disabled individuals regain their mobility in a way that is suitable for their living environment.

Ashok is a LFC rider from India who became immobile as a result of a spinal cord injury. After his injury, he was unable to travel to work in his tailoring shop because the hospital-style wheelchair could not withstand the terrain. Ashok was given a LFC in 2011 when GRIT launched their Indian field trail. Once Ashok received his LFC, he said, “Everything [went] back to normal.”

While mobility is vital to a suitable standard of living, independence and dignity are also necessary aspects. The LFC allows disabled individuals living in developing nations to return to normalcy and continue living their lives.

Brittney Dimond

Sources: TED, Squarespace 1, Squarespace 2, Gogrit
Photo: Flickr

Freedom Chair Mobility Worldwide

Imagine being unable to walk in a third world country. You might have to travel miles to reach food, water, school, or your place of employment. Even if you could obtain a wheelchair, it would not do you much good, considering that perfectly paved surfaces are few and far between.

Seeing these conditions first hand in East Africa inspired Amos Winter, who recently received his PhD in Mechanical Engineering from MIT, to create the Leveraged Freedom Chair (LFC). It’s the mountain bike of wheelchairs, allowing riders to change gears based on the terrain they are trying to cover. The parts are all made from standard bicycle components. This makes them relatively accessible in all parts of the world, including developing countries and rural areas.

Users change gears by grasping different areas on levers attached to the wheels. On smooth surfaces, riders can grab low on the levers and travel 80 percent faster than a regular wheelchair. Meanwhile, on rough surfaces, riders grab higher on the levers and are able to power over obstacles, using 50 percent more torque than a regular wheelchair. The levers can also be removed for easier indoor use.

This revolutionary device has been piloted in Vietnam, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Guatemala, and India. It is currently being produced in partnership with India’s Jaiper Foot, a world-renowned organization. Throughout the design process, the opinion of wheelchair users was repeatedly taken into account, resulting in four different generations of development.

There are roughly 14 million people in the developing world who are unable to walk. This technology will better enable them to access education, employment, and community resources. It will allow them to be more independent, and significantly improve their quality of life. The LFC is a wonderful example of sophisticated yet simple technology geared toward alleviating poverty in the developing world.

– Katie Fullerton

Sources: MIT, GRIT