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Follow-up Wheelchair Parts Supply via SMS and Mail

Ethiopian wheelchair users will get repair tips, diagrams, an SMS help desk, & replacement parts delivered by mail - keep chairs wheeling!

Photo of Keoke King
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What problem does your idea solve?

Failure to make timely replacement of broken wheelchair parts results in the chair becoming dangerous, harmful, & useless. Current approaches revolve around a repair center; however, this approach is not scalable and is expensive. There is no central training resource for wheelchair maintenance or user-repair processes. Access to spare parts & repairs are limited in many locations due to language and distance.

Explain your idea

According to WHO, wheelchair provision should follow 8 Steps, ‘Follow-up Service’ as the final crucial step. Follow-up typically involves replacement of consumable parts, broken parts and other services. Users live far from service centers and this stresses the limited number of trained service providers. Because the 8th Step is difficult to implement, users lose their gains in community participation and inclusion when their wheelchairs break down. To address the broken parts aspect, we will develop a replicable program with a local mail-order system, SMS order placement, and web based technical support for users. This solution will serve the primary failures on most wheelchairs: casters, cushions, bearings, and upholstery. This solution will be integrated to CLASP, a social enterprise that is a global distributor of appropriate wheelchairs targeted at less resourced settings. The system will require the following components: ● Regular SMS survey to users using Twillio for product feedback and promotion of the system ● Exploded diagrams ● An operator who identifies the parts needed, and requests the shipment by mail ● Local stock of parts ● Library of How To resources (crowdsourced) in .pdf ( style) and .mov hosted on ● Capability by CLASP to ship the parts needed with regular shipments of complete new wheelchairs Goals: ● Low cost handling of 80% of repairs ● Resource users with self-help knowledge ● Obtain product feedback

Who benefits?

Children and adult wheelchair users will benefit with chairs that continue working after repair. Research shows that many chairs break within 6 months and even ‘appropriate’ chairs last only 3 years. However effective service in extremely rough environments like Haiti have demonstrated that chairs can last 7 or more years.

How is your idea unique?

This solution builds on CLASP, a 1 year old enterprise that increases access to mobility products in less resourced settings - a wide variety. CLASP is uniquely placed: ● to provide a global spare-parts solution that is linked to local warehouses which can offer mail order spare parts support to users ● to collect failure data and leverage fixes from manufacturers ● to centrally host a shared library of ‘How To’ resources CLASP: ● shipped to over 40 countries in Y1 ● will double sales volume in Y2 ● will be indirectly connected to the largest global network of users In Ethiopia, and elsewhere, groups have developed solutions for center based wheelchair maintenance training. Sometimes solutions are overlapping, incomplete, text intensive, and not suitable for users. CLASP’s clinical complement, the International Society of Wheelchair Professionals, will assist in structuring, requesting to the crowd, and curating the ‘How To’ content hosted on, a lasting resource

Tell us more about you

UCP Wheels for Humanity is a nonprofit based in Los Angeles, California with more than 20 years of experience in providing appropriate custom fit wheelchairs to children and adults in less resourced settings. We have worked in 72 countries, including Ethiopia, developing partnerships with local service providers and NGOs. UCPW has staff that will be able to devote time to this project, have extensive experience, and have already begun the system design process.

What are some of your unanswered questions about the idea?

Supply chain solutions to less resourced settings have high shipping costs. Less than container load shipments will be explored as a solution to make smaller shipments of parts affordable. The solution requires bandwidth to resource users with ‘How To’ articles and this may be impractical for some users. Access to hand tools may be a problem. Users who are not mechanically inclined will need support from commonly available local bike shops. The system only functions in areas where a mail or low-cost parcel delivery service is available.

Where will your idea be implemented?

  • Burma
  • Ethiopia
  • South Africa
  • Tajikistan
  • Tanzania

Experience in Implementation Country(ies)

  • Yes, for more than one year.

Expertise in Sector

  • I've worked in a sector related to my idea for more than a year.

Organizational Status

  • We are a registered non-profit, charity, NGO, or community-based organization.

Idea Maturity

  • Piloting: I have started to implement my solution as a whole with a first set of real users.

How has your idea changed based on feedback?

We received feedback from 5 wheelchair users, 2 technicians, 2 therapists, and 2 administrators. We updated our experience map with: specification that this is a local phone number, users are initially given a more extensive set of repair tools, the monthly SMS message will include reminders to do weekly maintenance, sliding price scale for parts according to income, repair demonstration videos have few words. Also, for the program design, we heard from therapists and administrators. They noted that: 1) the parts need funding, 2) the operator needs an extensive manual, 3) we need to user test the repair instructions / videos for clarity and usefulness, 4) be careful not to over use the program. Some users need consistent in-person clinical evaluation that can't be substituted!! Wheelchair users in Ethiopia often go to automobile repair shops because bicycles are not as common as in other countries. How to guides must speak to auto mechanics - a pretty big change.

Who will implement this idea?

The primary partners are: Cheshire Services Ethiopia, CLASP a division of UCP Wheels, and RUK Indonesia. Local implementation, managed by Mr Berhanu of Cheshire and Mr Bolshaw of RUK, will include gradual deployment, testing, and improvement cycles. Each cycle will inform web resources and supply chain development by CLASP, which will play a coordinating role. Additional interested partners from South Africa, Burma, and Tajikistan will be invited in later stages to test the system for robustness

Using a human-centered design approach, you may uncover insights that lead to small or foundational changes to your organization’s existing strategy or processes in order to unlock the potential of your idea. How would your organization go about making such changes?

Typically, ideas emerge from a field office and are developed locally before being passed up to international HQ. Various functional teams contribute before the concept is rolled out to other locations. Big decisions are weighed against our mission, existing capability, and values. With this idea, many teams are involved: clinical, mechanical-technical, supply chain, marketing, IT, and administrative. To manage that complexity, each team will commit a point person and then the larger community will check in at gates along the way.

What is it that most attracted you to Amplify instead of a more traditional funding model?

For success, this idea requires a very close fit to user's needs, coordination of several functional areas, and simplicity. The HCD approach allows early examination of fit to user's needs and elimination of unnecessary elements. Because the idea requires IT and web content (How To repair resources), the IDEO community may be interested to contribute expert help. HCD, values 'failing forward' and we're proud that we'll be building on past attempts on the challenge of quality follow-up service.

What challenges do your end-users face? (1) What is the biggest challenge that your end-users face on a day-to-day, individual level? (2) What is the biggest systems-level challenge that affects your end-users?

Disability and poverty are intertwined and complex. Built environment accessibility, support from main stream health care systems, access to employment and education, access to assistive technology and many other issues are all challenges. For each person there is a different 'biggest challenge'. However, assistive technology that helps mobility (like a wheelchair) is a 'bridge' to human rights and whatever services are availability. The clinical and product aspects of mobility is our primary focus. By extending the useful life of a wheelchair, the user's mobility is extended. Also, this parts supply system encourages independence with less reliance on a completely center-based service solutions.

Tell us about your vision for this project: (1) share one sentence about the impact you would like to see from this project in five years and (2) what is the biggest question you need to answer to get there?

Impact: By 2022, we aim to offer the spare parts service in every country where CLASP ships more than 500 wheelchairs per year, likely over 25 countries, with service touching over 100,000 users. Question: For the rapidly growing global wheelchair user group served by CLASP, how can we effectively resource wheelchair users with parts and how-to materials in a cost effective and scaleable way that keeps users moving and encourages independence?

How long have you and your colleagues been working on this idea together?

  • Between 6 months and 1 year

How many of your team’s paid, full-time staff are currently based in the location where the beneficiaries of your proposed idea live?

  • Between 10-20 paid, full-time staff

Is your organization registered in the country you intend to implement your idea in?

  • We are registered in all countries where we plan to implement.

My organization's operational budget for 2016 was:

  • Between $500,000 and $1,000,000 USD

If your team/idea/organization has a website, please share the URL below.


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Photo of Christie Taylor

Ukraine has a similar wheelchair replacement and fitting need. I wish you the best of luck and keep up the good work. I'll watch this challenge for updates.

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