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Off-roading wheelchair gives users their lives back

Domestic abuse film touches a nerve

A cheap, light-weight wheelchair people build themselves out of bike parts, promises to transform life for users in the world’s poorest countries.

Seventy million people need a wheelchair, yet only 5% to 15% of them have one, according to World Health Organisation figures. Unable to get about, they are locked out of schools, jobs and life outside the home.

Easy-to-build and easy-to-fix, local people can make SafariSeat in simple workshops with easy-to-get parts.

Within days, SafariSeat smashed its initial £30,000 crowdfunding target to build 50 wheelchairs and develop a free DIY toolkit so anyone can build one. “We’ve had a very positive response,” said designer, Janna Deeble.

“Now we can get the project off the ground, we aim to raise enough to ensure communities can sustainably build their own SafariSeats without relying on donations in the future. We want to help people help themselves,” said Janna, 23 from Cornwall.

Uji, the people behind SafariSeat met at Brunel University London as design students. Final year design student Janna was inspired when he broke his leg skateboarding and needed a wheelchair for months. Frustrated by the experience, he remembered growing up in Kenya with childhood friend, Letu. Without healthcare or a wheelchair to get around, Letu, a traditional Samburu, disabled by Polio since birth, was left to crawl.

Janna went back to Kenya in 2014 when he spent months living with Letu and other people with disabilities to hone the wheelchair designs. Powered by pump action levers, a simple mechanism that mirrors car suspension makes the wheelchair hug rugged ground for stability.

The social enterprise - Janna, Cara O’Sullivan, 23, Bertie Meyer, 23 and James Seers, 24, are working on the first batch of wheelchairs and putting together a free open source toolkit. The kit includes a how-to-build guide in pictures to tackle language barriers, an online advice forum for makers and a design portal where they can share modifications.

“The SafariSeat we gave Letu means he can take his son out and teach him the traditional skills to become a Samburu,” said Janna. “Now he can travel from his home to the fields without having to crawl.”

 “Brunel taught us the fundamentals of design thinking and engineering. We’ve applied these lessons to create something which is significantly improving people’s lives” Cara added.

 The SafariSeat crowdfunding campaign ends on November 16.