Can seniors build rough-terrain wheelchairs for people in third-world countries? Take inspiration from the Davis, CA nonprofit, Little World Community Organization. Check out the site for information about Sacramento’s Greg Zaller. You might also check out the nonprofit Davis, CA organization, Freedom from Hunger, which is located at 1644 DaVinci Court – Davis, CA 95618.
Seniors with time to volunteer often are interested in international relief projects. For example, the number of residents dedicated to international relief has risen, according to Guidestar, that gives out information on the 1.8 million nonprofits in the USA. Even back home, more people are finding ways to battle poverty locally from making birthday parties for homeless kids to having classes in video production for homeless teens living in shelters.
What if seniors started a hobby of building rough-terrain wheelchairs for developing nations?
According to the Whirlwind Wheelchair website, in the late 1970’s Ralf Hotchkiss got interested in designing wheelchairs for active use in developing countries. From then until 1989, Ralf worked on his own with the assistance of an assortment of supporters to develop good wheelchair designs and teach wheelchair riders how to build their own wheelchairs throughout the developing world.
In 1989, Ralf joined up with engineering professor Peter Pfaelzer to establish the Wheeled Mobility Center at San Francisco State University. In 1997, Wheeled Mobility Center changed its name to Whirlwind Wheelchair International.
Ralf’s Corner is the place you can come to learn about Ralf, both the designer and the man. You never know what you will find here. How would you also like to design wheelchairs for rugged terrain?
Ralf Hotchkiss is a world-traveling paraplegic (as a result of a motor cycle accident). He holds a BS in Physics and an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Oberlin College.
Hotchkiss invents mobility devices, designs and builds wheelchairs, and teaches courses in wheelchair construction for the engineering department at San Francisco State University. He leaves the products in the public domain instead of patenting them so access to equipment is available at more affordable prices.
According to the San Francisco State University website, Ralf Hotchkiss is the Director and Chief Engineer, Whirlwind Wheelchair International, San Francisco Urban Institute/Institute for Civic and Community Engagement. He also holds a Sci.D. (honorary), Oberlin College, and has been at San Francisco State University since 1989.
Hotchkiss received the SF State President’s Medal in 2005. In 1989, he was the recipient of MacArthur Fellowship. Hotchkiss brought improved mobility to more than 15,000 people in Africa, Asia and Latin America by creating a global network of wheelchair inventors, designers, users and manufacturers to address the need for wheelchairs in the developing world. He developed a rough terrain wheelchair.
Where ideas come from that end up in wheelchair designs for rough terrains
Most ideas incorporated into the designs of his wheelchairs come from people whom he helped start in the design process. They encountered problems and came up with solutions.
More than a decade ago this author interviewed him for another magazine article. At that time, Hotchkiss was using the latest technology to analyze the strength and durability of low-technology materials to design more appropriate wheelchairs for navigating rural areas and developing countries.
Mountain bike tires replace the usual ones because they work in the rural and rugged terrain of 25 developing countries. Eighty percent of the third world had no wheel chairs. Today, there’s a great need for rough terrain wheelchairs all over the world.
Hotchkiss helped to set up small factories, training locals around the world to build affordable wheelchairs that can withstand the wear of rugged terrain in those areas. Most engineers don’t realize that people in third world countries can’t afford wheelchairs, and the wheelchairs available can’t withstand the shocks of the tropics, unpaved roads, cracked pavement, rural, or rocky terrain.
Engineers and computer scientists eagerly are needed to design and invent accessibility equipment for people with disabilities or frailty
What can you invent, from nutrition to snap-in-place toilet paper holders? How about designing better mechanical transport devices for commuter airplanes? How can you serve those with disabilities by your inventions or designs? For example, one invention that helps those with disabilities is a coin-counting calculator, a self-feeding system for those with tremors.
Did you know about SABAH skates–ice skates for people using a foot orthosis or for those with club feet? There also is a PC microscope with assistive devices for people with disabilities.
Back in 1996, a person with Parkinson’s disease designed a toilet seat with hand grips to assist people with shaking, tremors, and instability. The hand grips allow individuals to steady themselves. For those with Parkinson’s, tremors are often a safety concern. Other designs might be for people to steady themselves when handling trays of food or utensils.
Putting hand grip bars in bathrooms
For the person who designed the toilet seat hand grips, the individual had a grab bar near the toilet, but reaching for it pulled him off balance. Even though there were many toilet seats available on the market the team that individual worked with felt his design offered a unique benefit.
After an initial review of the market, the device was presented to various manufacturers and eventually licensed to a major manufacturer of riser toilet seats as well as other daily living aides. That company saw the market potential of the toilet seat design with a few additions. The engineers worked with the designer’s original prototype and redesigned the concept into a transfer/ toilet seat device with a dual purpose making it a more viable product.
It’s called a Reversible Toilet/Transfer Seat
Its reversible design allows both wheelchair and non-wheelchair users to have a safe and effective means of getting on and off of the toilet. One side of the seat provides a small extended platform to help wheelchair users transfer onto the seat while the other side has armrests that provide extra leverage for people who have difficulty rising from or lowering onto a toilet seat.
The individual who designed the device was pleased with the new design and saw applications for children as well as the disabled. Another individual developed a hand-exercising device for a friend who was recovering from an accidental gunshot wound.
The person took two plastic tubes, made grooves in them and attached rubber O rings at either end. The device helped his friend regain strength in his hand and forearm. He showed the hand exerciser to his wife, an occupational therapist. She took the exerciser to work and used in on patients. The patients who benefited from the device included those with arthritic conditions, stroke victims and those recovering from surgery.
The hand exerciser promotes increased strength, coordination and range of motion for the hand. The inventor and his wife also developed demonstration videotape of how the device is used and what the benefits were. They submitted the device and videotape to a company that helps to develop assistive devices.
That company then conducted a consumer focus group on the device and using the results approached several manufacturers of hand therapeutic products. One of the manufacturers licensed the rights to the hand exerciser, and using the results of the consumer’s report developed different sizes and colors of the product. They marketed the product through the rehabilitation field as well as the sports medicine industry.
How You can offer people more choices
Those with disabilities want more choices regarding where they prefer to work or study–at home, outside, or in transit. The goal is to gives more choices to people who can’t move their hands to type or move a mouse, or are blind. Even if you don’t design devices, you can coordinates the production of a database to assist in the accurate portrayal of individuals with disabilities in films, for example. Or if you’re interested in nutrition, focus on ways people can more easily prepare food, or decide which foods are healthiest.
Most people with disabilities need devices that can be modified to particular needs. What’s needed now in addition to rough terrain wheelchairs are devices that transport whatever form of data you can enter on a host computer that’s portable. People are looking for better devices for speech input or head pointing for those unable to use their hands to type or move a cursor.
A blind person would need different modifications, and computers are needed for those deaf and blind. The goal is freedom to access technology wherever you choose to work.
Using Brain Waves to Work Your Computer
Picture yourself unable to speak, hear, or even move your fingers??flat on your back, paralyzed and endlessly confined to a room. All you have to bargain with is eye movement. How do you communicate with 30 million people online? Using brain waves, you can surf the Internet, take courses on the Web, send and receive E?mail, put in a day’s work at your computer, move any cursor, or play video games.
All you need to move are your eye muscles or any other body signals, such as your breath, if you’re blind or have low eye-muscle control, to work and/or surf the Web. New technology allows you to channel your brain waves through commercial devices that merge your mind with your computer.
There’s no need to touch your keyboard or mouse anymore. Even back in 1996, Boston College had electrodes placed near, but outside the eyes allow you to control your cursor only by looking at the spot you want changed. Impulses sent to amplifiers increase your eye movement signal 5,000 times. The secret more than 14 years ago was in the software. It translated computer signals into screen-driven cursor coordinates.
Currently, paralyzed workers and/or Internet surfers use the latest technology
A decade ago all they had was an alphabet grid to spell out a sentence by looking at each letter. Back then, a 20-character message in 21 seconds allowed physically challenged employees to communicate or create and send information to anyone by e-mail.
Today, there are Dragon Systems software for speech to text, and TextAloud software for text to speech software. You have Skype and similar systems for videoconferencing around the globe. And you have touch technology where the blind-deaf can use computers to work at their careers and maintain financial independence. Cell phones, iPads, e-Readers, and other devices are becoming more mobile and capable of multi-tasking.
Fourteen years ago, Wadsworth Center for Laboratories and Research in New York made it possible for you to turn your brain waves into cursor movements. An EEG-familiar electroencephalogram-like device is attached to your scalp. The electrodes read the electrical activity of your brain, either alpha or beta waves.
Body signals used to control computers
If you chose another body signal to control your computer, your work, or your Internet research, there were devices to choose from that used your pulse, blood pressure, or other body signals to perform operations normally done by your mouse or keyboard. That all happened back in 1996.
Blind computer users on the Internet to do work-related research liked the finger pad more than a decade ago. A company called “The Other 90% Technologies” of Sausalito, California, began offering MindDrive back in 1996. Instead of reading your brain waves from electrodes pasted to your scalp like an EEG, MindDrive became a pad you slipped on one finger that read your temperature, blood pressure, and heartbeat, called galvanic skin responses. Technology makes it possible for the blind to not only read web sites but also to design them using voice commands and/or touch screens.
Users in the mid-1990s wore the MindDrive finger pad like a ring, moving objects on the computer screen by responding to electrical impulses generated by your nervous system. It worked a little like a polygraph. The software translated the skin responses into computer commands that moved an object on your computer screen to where you want it. MindDrive also picked up emotional responses, and could can tell the difference between positive and negative feelings.
The MindDrive lets impulses get filtered through software
The MindDrive worked so much like a lie detector test. It allowed impulses to be filtered through the software that allowed the impulses to control horizontal or vertical motion of computers or computer games. When MindDrive entered the retail market in 1996, it was bundled with games and the hardware needed to connect to Windows, and priced under $200.
For those who cannot or choose not to use a mouse or keyboard, using galvanic skin responses was another way to communicate and be able to hold a job or run a business.Today, the movements of your eyes or your breath are sometimes used to operate computers and move software.
Using eye movements to move objects on a computer screen
Currently, in this decade, the idea of using brain waves, eye movements, breath, voice, or skin responses to move objects on a computer screen lets you escape a confined body, as if in virtual reality. Paralyzed employees or students use breath straws to operate computers.
Physicist, Steven Hawkings is one example of a user of breath straws to operate computers. Touch-sensitive software and hardware also allow the blind-deaf to use computers and successfully hold jobs at home or in offices. Currently you can have your entire house wired by computers, if you can afford the cost.
At the Wadsworth Center for Laboratories and Research of the New York Department of Health in Albany, researchers were teaching people how to move computer cursors around their screens so they can surf specific screen targets back in the 1990s using a software program called Gabriel. How has technology that helps those with disabilities changed today?
Body ‘nets’ work like electronic circuitry
Human bodies and computerized “body nets” work like electronic circuitry, for some. Others use touch or voice technology to write or speak. Some use their brains to move computer text. Technology advances every few months.
When your brain is active, it produces electrical activity that moves your computer’s cursors. People sit at their computer screens and imagine or think. They try to get their thoughts in order to shift the cursors to chosen destinations. The goal is, ” If a thought works, stay with it.”
Moving the cursor by thinking or feeling becomes easier with use, then automatic
The whole idea of this technology is to help people with disabilities communicate from the very simple yes or no replies to employment requiring the operation of computers, including working the web sites.
Helping people use computers by brain-powered technologies are offshoots of virtual reality research, the polygraph, and speech recognition software for the blind. Even back in the 1990s, Interactive Brainwave Visual Analyzer (IBVA) Technologies, Inc., New York City, pioneers commercial mind-control technology.
Brain wave analyzers
Interactive Brainwave Visual Analyzer (IBVA) Technologies, Inc. offered way back in 1996 a wireless device that read EEG-type brain waves. The package contained an interactive film whose plot develops according to emotional cues generated by your brain waves, thoughts, and feelings. You hooked it up to a personal computer.
You controlled the technology by switching brain waves, as in meditation. Military engineers from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base researching brain-actuated control systems for flight simulators more than a decade ago. Has much changed today with smaller mobile devices and more videoconferencing on phones?
Technology that uses the focus of the eyes to control computers, not brain electricity
Current technology uses the focus of the eyes, not the brain electricity, to control computers by placing electrodes around the eyes. Persons with disabilities, especially children in the 1990s used a product called Eagle Eyes. It gave more choices to paralyzed artists and students or others who work with math or reading.
Users draw or paint using only their eyes, or run math and reading software. These youngsters with severe disabilities are not able to speak or move any muscles other than breathing with the help of respirators. Yet by looking at the keyboards on screens, they learn how to write, draw, or communicate by looking at the letters they will select. Think of the multimedia applications.
Virtual Reality Feedback for Wheelchairs
Engineers and architects working with virtual reality feedback help people with disabilities by redesigning the buildings they frequently navigate in wheelchairs. Back in 1996, at the Hines Rehabilitation and R&D Center in Chicago, Dr. John Trimble and Ted Morris developed a wheelchair simulator using Sense8 software to test building designs for wheelchair accessibility.
Rollers underneath a wheelchair fed information to a computer that created, controlled, and managed virtual reality simulations. Engineers also used virtual reality (VR) systems that tracked the progress of a commuter with a disability going to and from work.
VR tracking that measured gains in freedom of movement and control allowed physically challenged people to monitor their progress. Inside, at rehabilitation centers, the VPL DataSuit helped to track a person’s entire body movements for use in rehabilitation programs.
Buildings were tested by having the VR use a real wheelchair installed on a platform that transferred the wheel movement into navigation data for the personal computer. Virtual architects donned goggles and a VPL DataGlove to navigate the building.
The researchers tested how accessible the shelves, doors, and drawers are to the wheelchair commuter. Using width parameters, the virtual wheelchair was prevented from passing through doorways that were too narrow. The system also was used by businesses and schools who needed to construct public bathrooms with doors wide enough and toilets high enough to accommodate the wheelchair passenger.
Companies such as Boeing, Rockwell, NASA, Sense8, and others, helped the engineer, computer scientist, and architect in the rehabilitation field. Today, virtual engineering and architecture must integrate industrial, instructional, and medical simulations in order to design functional buildings accessible to people with a variety of disabilities.
Not only must buildings be accessible to people in wheelchairs, but also elevators and computers in the workplace must be available by touch to the commuter with disabilities. Has technology changed that much in the past decade for those who need assistance to do their jobs or to live more independently? Devices have become smaller and more affordable. But are they still out of reach financially for most people with disabilities?
Adaptive technologies for cooking when you have a disability
From the point of view of the nutritionist, adaptive technology most used are those that help people with disabilities prepare their own meals, reach kitchen spaces more easily, and help with safety issues when preparing and storing food. One example is how to open and close a refrigerator, prepare foods, and use the stove with various disabilities.
And from the nutrition side, what foods are healthiest for people with chronic disabilities? That’s why nutritionists and adaptive device designers can work closely so people who need these devices to eat and safely retrieve, prepare, and store food can do so more easily.
The goal is affordability. Behind the drive for better technology to help those who need assistance to live and work is the drive to have freedom from hunger. That’s the main link between the fields of nutrition and the area of assistive technologies. For further information on current assistive technology see the websites, Assistive Technology Devices & Adaptive Products – EnableMart.com and Assistive Technology to Meet K–12 Needs.