The Issue

Many people in the world rely on a wheelchair as they are physically incapacited to move on their own. In fact, a survey conducted in 2021 showed that 75 million people in the world needed to use a wheelchair on a daily basis, but the current design of the wheelchair has a lot of issues and constantly needs someone to assist the patient. Most people who have been using the wheelchair for a while know that it can be frustrating as its limitations hinders their day to day function. It makes them feel constrained as they constantly have to depend on another person to do the simplest of tasks. While users have become used to the existing features, we understand that a few elements of the wheelchair can be tweaked to make the user feel more comfortable and less dependent.

In today’s world, we have accepted disabled people into the mainstream, and learnt to look at their capabilities. But they can have a better quality of life if they are more independent. In most developed countries, disabled people work despite their limitations. But, in LMICs, being confined to a wheelchair is seen as a liability. But what if there was a way to help a disabled person continue working to their full potential?

This is why InUnity felt that this issue had to be addressed and presented this idea to their students, asking them to build an effective alternative that could give people who are wheelchair-bound, a sense of freedom to perform day-to-day tasks without having to rely on another person. Of course, there are advanced wheelchairs in the market, but they noticed that most of them are either highly priced or only solved a couple of their problems and another major factor was affordability, especially for people living in the rural regions of India.

This problem statement was taken up by Rishon Fernandes, who is studying in 8th grade in Lourdes Central School, and by Shodhan S Moolya, who is from Nitte University. 

To figure out a solution, they first started by understanding the challenges that disabled people undergo every day. As ideas came to them, they slowly started reanalyzing certain aspects of the wheelchair and tried to think of ways they could make it work more efficiently. So began their research on how to build a better wheelchair for greater mobility and which was cost-effective!

Problem #1 : Transferring the Patient from the Wheelchair to the Bed

The first issue they found was that most people found it very hard to transfer the patient from the wheelchair to the bed and vice versa. One of the students helping solve this challenge experienced a disturbing incident with a family member due to the inefficiencies of the wheelchair, which made them pick this problem statement and try to solve it. To fix this issue, they went through multiple research papers and studied how they could use the concept of hydraulics to make this transition smoother. The hydraulics will be used to increase or decrease the height of the wheelchair which in turn will help in the transfers of patients to beds of different heights. So the hydraulics does help in the transfer system, but indirectly. By studying other wheelchairs in the market and taking inspiration from the expensive ones available, they finally figured a way to do this successfully.

After creating a simple design with the help of SolidWorks, they needed to make sure that their target audience shared with  them their experiences of being confined to a wheelchair and also making sure everyone agreed on the idea before making major changes.

Problem #2 : The Psychological Aspect of being confined to a Wheelchair

After meeting dozens of medical professionals and having conversations with people who were in similar situations, one of the mentors at InUnity listed their views on how they could redesign the wheelchair. In one of the interactions with the patient, the students learnt that their interviewee had an accident that temporarily paralyzed him for over a year, and using the wheelchair for the first time was agonizing. This made them realize that they had to design such a wheelchair, that a first time user would feel comfortable operating and also one that could be used by someone who might have to use a wheelchair for long.

The initial problem statement was to make a more efficient wheelchair design to make the transition from shifting the patient from the wheelchair to the bed easier. But interviewing all these people and hearing their stories on how traumatizing it was to not to be able to walk, was when they realized that the problem doesn’t lie only in the technicalities but in the very fact that  the current design did not allow them to work to their greatest potential, hence felt like they were being caged.

After addressing a couple of more issues with the current design, they had an umpteen number of ideas on how to modify these changes. From using hand pedals to attaching motors, they experimented with the prototype making it as simple as possible for their customers.

The Conclusion

In taking the lead on this issue, Rishon Fernandes and Shodhan hope that their design of the wheelchair will help a lot of people who are physically disabled, feel more independent and will help them to continue working, without any issues.

By also taking into account the psychological aspect of being confined to a wheelchair, they hoped to make the experience of using a wheelchair as less traumatic as possible, as a lot of people only look at the mechanical part while building the wheelchair. By focusing on helping people operate the wheelchair on their own, they made a less bulky, more compact version of the wheelchair that could be used in home settings as well as outside. They hope to see their product being successful in the emerging markets and sold worldwide.

Both these young bright entrepreneurs convey their thanks to InUnity for mentoring them to achieve their best and for being a part of such a wonderful program, helping them do their bit in giving back to the community and society .