04/24/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Nonprofit Builds and Donates Low-Cost, Durable Wheelchairs To Haiti

For thousands of Haitian amputees and injured in urgent need of durable, low cost wheelchairs, Ralf Hotchkiss of the nonprofit, Whirlwind Wheelchair International, may be their answer. For 22 years, Hotchkiss has run a nonprofit that develops sturdy low-cost wheelchairs for underdeveloped nations and arranges for their distribution, PBS Newshour reports.

Hotchkiss got involved 44 years ago, after he was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident. He learned fast that wheelchairs, even ones that cost several thousand dollars, weren't very practical.

"My first wheelchair lasted me half-a-block, and the front wheel was then ripped off by hitting a crack in the sidewalk. It was beyond repair." As an engineer, he began studying and observing wheelchairs.

Hotchkiss' wheelchairs are designed to ride over tough terrain without breaking parts or the bank. He was awarded a MacArthur Genius grant for raising awareness of the needs of the disabled and for his efforts to fill those needs.

We're having, so far, 350 chairs made in Vietnam and Mexico, and all sent to Haiti to be distributed to people both with spinal cord injuries and with amputations, usually dual amputations, who absolutely have to get mobility soon, before it's too late.


You can donate directly to Whirlwind Wheelchair International, which has paired up with Handicap International to build and distribute RoughRider wheelchairs in Haiti. $40 will buy two all terrain wheels, $220 will buy a complete wheelchair with a 10-year lifespan.