- Letter from the Chairperson
- Whirlwind Gives Assistance and Training to ARSOBO
- Kyaninga Mobility: Assistive Technology Equipment made from Bamboo!
- International Children with Disabilities Protection Act of 2022
- Whirlwind Provides Assistance to Wheelchair Riders
Dear Friends and Supporters,
As we reported in 2021, Whirlwind is focusing on providing technical assistance to the small-scale businesses who are manufacturing and selling RoughRider wheelchairs. During 2022, the Whirlwind engineering team of Ralf Hotchkiss, Levan Talakhadze and Salam Hassan has been providing technical assistance to 3 RoughRider wheelchair businesses: the ARSOBO factory in Nogales, Mexico, the Fundación Bertha O. De Osete I.A.P. factory located in San Juan del Río, Querétaro, México, and the KIFAS factory in Ankara, Turkey.
Ralf and Levan evaluated a 2007 model RoughRider wheelchair from ARSOBO and identified several issues, which could be improved in their manufacturing and quality control process. This evaluation led to a visit by Levan to ARSOBO in Nogales, Mexico for two weeks, in order to help implement some of these fabrication improvements. You can read about his technical assistance visit in more detail in this newsletter.
Ralf and Levan also evaluated a 2007 model RoughRider and a standard hospital wheelchair from the Fundación Bertha O. De Osete, which is operating a medium size factory in San Juan del Río, Mexico. Ralf was especially excited about examining their standard hospital wheelchair as it is a much lighter and a simpler wheelchair design. Helping these businesses also means that Whirlwind’s engineers get to learn from their technical innovations and production solutions. Whirlwind will continue its technical assistance to the Fundación Bertha O. De Osete in 2023.
Whirlwind also provided technical assistance this year to KIFAS in Ankara, Turkey by sending Salam Hassan to: provide training for their new welders, improve their RoughRider production fixtures, and to strengthen their quality control processes. Specifically, Ken Eriksen, the founder and CEO of KIFAS, had asked for help in purchasing new welding equipment, a welding table and tube bending dies. Afterwards, Ken told me how happy he was to have Salam working with his team as he challenged them to think in new ways about how to create jigs or when he taught them how to make low-cost basketball wheelchairs. In December, Whirlwind received an email request from a disability organization in Ukraine who wanted to purchase basketball wheelchairs for rehabilitation and sport activities for their newly disabled Ukrainian veterans and we introduced them to KIFAS and Salam.
Our efforts to collaborate with NIOION Technologies Company, Ltd. based in Jiangsu, China in the development of an electric Roughrider using recent electric bicycle technology did not make any progress during this year due to a 2-month lockdown of Shanghai and nearby cities because of Covid. These repeated city-wide lockdowns have interrupted the normal functioning of local businesses and thereby disrupted our collaboration efforts to identify and evaluate new technical solutions. We are optimistically hoping to re-establish communications and to make some progress with an electric RoughRider as China’s businesses re-emerge from these lockdowns.
Whirlwind will continue to provide technical assistance and support to these RoughRider businesses in 2023 with your donations, which helps to keep us alive. Please consider making a generous large or small donation so that we can continue to provide the best wheelchair for the most difficult living conditions in the world.
Chairperson of the Board of Directors
Levan began his visit in late October by examining how the ARSOBO RoughRider production process was organized and by inspecting the operating condition of the major equipment: drill press, welding torch, lathe machine and the production jigs.
The lathe machine was loose so Levan took it apart, cleaned it and then put it tightly back together so that it now works correctly. He also took apart and cleaned the welding torch and then advised Gabriel, the Chief Engineer, to lower the electricity power and the speed of the flux wire to improve the quality of the welding. Levan always worked directly with Gabriel while demonstrating how to weld with lower power. He also advised Gabriel to purchase a new copper head for the welding torch, where the flux wire comes out, and by making those changes the quality of the welding would greatly improve.
Another issue he identified was that the sockets for the X-brace were not aligned correctly during welding and they created a small gap next to the side frame, which could be fixed by a better welding technique on a lower power. While examining a RoughRider side frame, Levan noticed that they were using four different sizes of tubing. One of his recommendations for improving the fabrication process was to change the production jigs, so that they only used two sizes of tubing for a side frame.
When a wheelchair is completed, a worker can test the alignment of the side frames of the wheelchair by giving it a small push forward to see if the finished RoughRider rolls in a straight line. While conducting this test on an ARSOBO wheelchair, Levan could see that the 2 side frames were not perfectly aligned, so he made a few small fixes in the production jigs and now the side frames match equally. Levan recommended that new RoughRider production jigs be created in 2023, which would use only 2 tube sizes for the side frames and be perfectly aligned.
After watching Gabriel forcing a bearing into a front caster barrel, Levan measured the tube diameter of the caster barrel and discovered that it was .5 cm smaller than the bearing, which made it very difficult to correctly insert the bearing. This fitting problem can be resolved by using a slightly larger sized tube for the caster barrels and will be further stabilized by inserting a spacer between the two bearings inside the caster barrel.
Levan also demonstrated how to make a lighter and stronger front caster fork using steel tubing that is bent into the correct shape and the ends are flattened for attaching to the bicycle axles of the Zimbabwe wheel.
Regarding the backrest upholstery, currently ARSOBO is using three straps to support the backrest fabric and only one metal buckle. Levan recommended that they use 2 metal buckles and showed them how the 2 metal buckles will lock and strengthen the 3 support straps. Whirlwind has always recommended using car seat belts for support straps because they are very strong and easily available to purchase.
Whirlwind conducted an exit zoom meeting with Levan, Kiko, Gabriel, Ralf, and Bruce to present Whirlwind’s findings and recommendations for improvement. Duke, the ARSOBO Board Chairperson, reviewed the zoom meeting and agreed to implement Levan’s recommendations for creating new wheelchair production jigs, purchasing new tools, and for the expansion of the RoughRider production space, which will improve the efficiency of the workstations and will add storage for the finished wheelchairs. ARSOBO will welcome any donations to assist them with implementing these capital improvements.
In September 2022, Whirlwind received an email from Steve Williams in Uganda, asking for technical assistance and an invitation to visit Ralf’s workshop in Oakland, California. What came as a surprise was his photo of a bamboo wheelchair, which he had been developing for a couple of years with ongoing technical assistance from businesses and factories in England, America and from Dr. Jon Perlman at the University of Pittsburgh.
In 1981, Ralf and Bruce were both aware of the attempt by Handicapped International to create a bamboo wheelchair in the Thailand refugee camps on the Cambodia border. Both of them were invited to the 1981 founding of Disabled People International, which was being held in Singapore during the United Nations International Year of the Disabled Persons. Ralf conducted a DIY workshop on how to make an appropriate technology wheelchair in the parking garage of the conference hotel. Using the wheelchair that Ralf had just built, Bruce traveled on to Thailand to visit the Cambodian refugee camp and to investigate the functionality of Handicapped International’s bamboo wheelchairs. The bamboo technology they used was not very sophisticated and after personally testing their bamboo and wood wheelchair, Bruce said that it was too heavy and was functionally difficult to use. For the last 40 years, we have both been unaware of any successful prototype of a wheelchair constructed primarily of bamboo.
Founded in 2014, KYANINGA CHILD DEVELOPMENT CENTER, which currently employs 85 staff and serves approximately 1000 children a month. He also manages KYANINGA MOBILITY, which designs, tests, develops and manufactures wheelchairs, standing devices, seating apparatuses, prosthetics, and other mobility equipment, primarily using local bamboo.
Steve said, “We have traveled down a number of paths to solve the joint problem. The bamboo itself is very strong. We realized a solution could be to use more bamboo, which is very inexpensive and available. We have been testing the joints through a series of bamboo trailers pulled on the back of our vehicles (Dr. Jon Pearlman’s idea), and we are building a carousel testing machine. It has been a long journey and has ended up with a very simple solution (we are hoping it’s true that simplicity is complexity resolved). We essentially fill just the end of the bamboo with more bamboo, (a mechanical machine is being developed to make the process quick and easy) and together with the use of bamboo webs, we feel we have created a very cheap and strong frame.”
Steve arrived in San Francisco at the end of September and spent a week meeting with Ralf in his workshop while discussing various technical problems that he was trying to solve with casters, axles, upholstery, bamboo water damage and the use of bicycle technology. Bruce Curtis also had several meetings with Steve regarding publicity, potential donors, scalability, replication and the sustainability of his bamboo assistive technology model and networking with local and international supporters.
Steve is now back in his home in Port Royal, Uganda and is implementing some of the technical solutions provided by Ralf, in his next prototype of a bamboo wheelchair. Whirlwind is interested in the possibility of Archy Gomba, who lives very close on the east side of Lake Victoria in Tanzania, possibly visiting KYANINGA MOBILITY in order to share his experience of creating solar powered tricycles.
International Children with Disabilities Protection Act of 2022
A bipartisan group of senators, led by Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Republican Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas, has introduced the International Children with Disabilities Protection Act. Senate Bill No. 4982 will establish a small grants program of $10 million per year over five years at the US Department of State’s Office of Democracy, Rights, and Labor for people with disabilities and families of children with disabilities working to bring about policy and program reforms in their own countries. The bill also includes funding for an international training program to support effective community inclusion and deinstitutionalization of children with disabilities.
Joining Senators Menendez and Moran in cosponsoring the legislation are Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.)
According to UNICEF, there are at least 240 million children with disabilities globally, many of whom are left abandoned in institutions. Currently, there is no focused U.S. program to advance support for disabled children’s specialized needs, advocate for common-sense international policy reforms, and to promote the full inclusion of children as full-fledged members of society within loving families. This legislation aims to create a small-grants program—implemented by global disability rights NGOs—to support children with disabilities, and improve the capacity of local organizations of persons with disabilities and families of children with disabilities to advocate for necessary reforms.
Sec. 2. Findings
This section details the scope of needs related to protecting children with disabilities worldwide.
Sec. 3. Sense of Congress
This section reiterates support to end stigma and discrimination by assisting organizations of persons with disabilities and family members of persons with disabilities.
Sec. 5. Statement of Policy
U.S. policy is to assist countries in creating rights protections programs for people with disabilities and to promote laws and policies that strengthen family support systems.
Sec. 6. International Children with Disabilities Protection Program.
Establishes a grant program within the State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor to assist organizations of persons with disabilities and families of children with disabilities to advocate for policies promoting family inclusion and to support independent living. Authorizes the Secretary of State to provide funds to NGOs to develop capacity-building programs to support advocacy efforts and advance policy reforms. Authorizes $2 million in funds for FY 24 and $10 million for each fiscal year after from FY25 to FY29.
Sec. 7. Briefings and Reports on Implementation.
Requires an annual briefing and a report every three years to relevant congressional committees.
Sec. 8. Promoting International Protection and Advocacy for Children with Disabilities.
Emphasizes that programming implemented by the State Department and USAID should include the perspectives of organizations of persons with disabilities and seek to keep families united, when possible, including in conflict settings.
Whirlwind Provides Assistance to Wheelchair Riders
Whirlwind often receives requests from wheelchair riders who need a good wheelchair for going outside in the real world but cannot afford to pay the high prices for wheelchairs. Because Whirlwind no longer sells wheelchairs, we refer potential customers to our partners that do, such as ARSOBO, a non-profit organization located in Nogales, Arizona/Mexico or to a private business, Roughrider America.
We have sometimes received a few donated scooters, power wheelchairs or manual wheelchairs and we have donated this equipment to those wheelchair riders who needed it. In February, Whirlwind received an email request from 21 year-old Katie Vazquez in Queens, New York City, who had severe fibromyalgia and needed a wheelchair that could go outdoors into the rough terrain of NYC. Katie had no income and when she left the hospital in 2021, she was given a Drive manual wheelchair, which was very hard for her to maneuver and she could not go outside without someone pushing her. Whirlwind sent our last RoughRider wheelchair to her and after receiving it she was able to go outside and begin to live more independently in NYC.
In May, Whirlwind received an email from Nilvio Charles about his ex-wife, 36 year-old Ramona Benua who lives in the Dominican Republic. She currently had a plastic wheelchair, which required pushing help from a relative in order to go outside her home. However, Ramona wanted a scooter so she could go by herself to church and to her physical therapy appointments. Therefore, Whirlwind sent a donated scooter to Nilvio in New York and he sent it to Ramona in Santo Domingo with his friend who was traveling there by airplane. Now she is going outside by herself and enjoying a more independent life.
A former customer, Ann McColl of North Carolina, happily found that she no longer needed her RoughRider after a successful spinal surgery. Ann wanted to donate her chair to someone who wanted to get out into the woods like she had.
In November, Whirlwind had received a request from a young man, Adam Klett in Knoxville Tennessee, with a spinal cord injury at T2 with multiple spinal screws, whose current wheelchair was falling apart and unsafe to use. He said he was outdoors a lot and needed a more durable wheelchair in order to have an active everyday life but could not afford to purchase a Roughrider wheelchair because he was on a fixed, poverty income. We immediately contacted Ann and she was willing to box up her RoughRider wheelchair for Adam and Whirlwind paid the shipping for the RoughRider wheelchair to arrive at Adam‘s home.
Whirlwind uses the financial contributions from our supporters and donors in order to continue our work of improving the design of the Roughrider wheelchair, providing information and assistance to wheelchair riders, and for providing technical assistance to the small factories who are manufacturing our RoughRider wheelchair. Please consider making a donation to Whirlwind, so that we can continue helping wheelchair riders to independently live their lives outside in the world.