Non-profit humanitarian organization Free Wheelchair Mission is actively addressing basic mobility needs in developing countries with cost-effective and durable wheelchair designs. While currently discontinued, the NGO’s very first model, GEN_1, made headlines for its simple yet revolutionary retrofitting of a white plastic chair into a multipurpose mobility tool for the less-abled.
Given the harsh living conditions plaguing several third-world regions, GEN_1 was ‘designed for use in rugged terrain,’ explains the organization. ‘It provides basic mobility to a broad range of recipients, and it is generally recommended for those who do not need adjustments to the wheelchair to aid postural support.’ Black Plastic Chairs
After 20 years of service, the non-profit has distributed 1.3 million wheelchairs across 94 countries.
all images via Free Wheelchair Mission (unless stated otherwise)
Weighing 17.4 kg, the GEN_1 model combines a legless white plastic chair, a black steel frame, and 24” rear wheels sporting a medium tread and an inflatable inner tube. To improve wheelbase, stability, and safety, the team at Free Wheelchair Mission used large rubber castors as front wheels and added an independent steel-locking system on each rear wheel. It also offered an optional over-the-shoulder 5-point harness that ‘helps provide secure seating for smaller recipients and recipients requiring additional postural support.‘
Topping the plastic chair is a UV-resistant seat and backrest component made from injection-molded polypropylene resin that attaches to the black steel frame. Finally, the NGO incorporated an adjustable footrest suitable for four different leg lengths; users can pivot it as needed, forward or back.
The GEN_1 comes unassembled and takes about 15 minutes to put together. As for maintenance, Free Wheelchair mission writes: ‘Designed to provide 3-5 years of service with normal use, providing it is appropriately maintained. Each recipient is supplied with a wrench, air pump, patch kit and recipient manual for home maintenance, plus contact information for local resources should service, maintenance, further training or information be required.’
In addition to the GEN_1 version, the NGO launched GEN_2 in 2009 as a more adjustable and fine-tuned design, suitable for longer commutes and specific needs. It comes with a light-blue frame and black wheels. Moreover, unlike the 2001 model, GEN_2 comes in four different sizes (X, M, L, XL). Last but not least, in 2013, the team released its first foldable wheelchair, GEN_3, to promote ‘better home storage and more convenient transportability.‘
the legs of the plastic chair are cut off before fitting it into black frame
GEN_1 during its distribution period | image via CILSA
design: Free Wheelchair Mission | @fwmission
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