Alter the Wheelchair

Development of a Rigid Frame Wheelchair for Developing Countries


This master’s thesis was conducted at the department of Product and Production Development at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden. The authors, who were also the two members of the project team, Christian Bremer and Erik Ohlson were at the project initiation students at the Master’s programme Industrial Design Engineering.

The project was carried out in collaboration with Whirlwind Wheelchair International; a San Francisco based non-profit social enterprise dedicated to improve the lives of people with disabilities in the developing world. It was initiated to develop an adult active manual wheelchair compatible with the social, physical and economic conditions that currently characterize the situation in semi-urban environments in developing countries. The new wheelchair design should also promote an increase of social integration of people in need of wheelchairs in these contexts.

The project was characterized by a four-step process beginning in Gothenburg with a preparatory phase, covering planning and initial research. The second step was conducted together with Whirlwind at their headquarters in San Francisco, CA, which provided access to expertise and resources for designing, constructing and building a functional wheelchair prototype. This prototype was brought to Yogyakarta, Indonesia, for the third phase. During two and a half weeks, field trials and user studies were conducted together with UCP Wheels for Humanity Indonesia – a non-profit, Yogyakarta based non-governmental organization.

Providing services within wheelchair provision and fitting for both young and adult users, UCP is the first of its kind in Indonesia. The fourth and final phase took place in Gothenburg where the feedback from these studies was translated into user requirements and technical specifications, which formed the base of the final result – a new wheelchair designed to accommodate the needs of wheelchair riders in semi-urban environments in developing countries.This new wheelchair design has been embodied as a final prototype, which was produced both to portray the design but also to allow future testing and evaluation after the completion of this project.

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