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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
16 20

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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.


Join the conversation:

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.

Photo of Yoyon Hariyono

I think this is a good idea. So users can be independent to fix their wheelchair. Many users live in remote villages and SMS can help to get information, but to get detailed information such as pictures, videos and others must be through social media using internet network services. In this area the internet network is difficult to reach. This will make it difficult for users to get more complete information.

Photo of Keoke King

Yoyon. Thanks. That's a great point. We'll need good paper instructions in addition to video. And, hopefully, good internet connectivity will continue to spread!

Photo of Bethelehem

Dear Koeke,
Thank you for your interest to solve the problem related to wheelchair in Ethiopia. I have been in the disability sector for more than 10 years and I can see your concern. However, I have real concern on the following issues:
1. Importation of items is a very difficult task in Ethiopia. One is shortage of foreign currency, then you need to have permit. Have you check all these issues with Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and do you have the green light?
2. Have you assessed the existing organizations dealing with wheelchairs like Cheshire Service currently assembling wheelchairs imported by IOCC (including spare parts), Addis Guzo, ...? I have seen a lot of wheelchairs donated by charities in this country.
3. As you have seen, the infrastructure in the country is not at all accessible for wheelchair users, you can take Addis Ababa let alone the rural area. How are you going to deal with this issues?
4. Regarding the use of SMS, it's true that Ethiopia has made a great effort in expanding mobile telephone and I support the idea of ordering spare parts through this means. My concern will be affordability of the spare parts by the poor and the language barrier which should be well thought.
I would be glad to get your feedback on these issues. Thank you.

Photo of Keoke King

Thanks so much for your comment.
1. To get green light, we will importing using the same partners we have used previously for the past 5 years. Shipping and import are difficult - and expensive - but, we have a consistently successful solution.
2. Cheshire is planned to be our primary partner on this project.
3. Accessibility problems are serious and difficult problems that require coordination from many stakeholders and cooperation from government. Those solutions are outside the scope of this project. We hope to keep wheelchair users mobile so they can continue to go to meetings and bring up the issues.
4. Affordability will be accomplished by making parts available on a sliding scale depending on the specific income of the wheelchair user. We expect to get NGO support to cover what the user cannot afford.

Photo of Karen Reyes

What a phenomenal idea, and much needed, too. Very excited to see your idea on the shortlist!

Photo of Simon

Hi Keoke,
I really like the idea, this will really help a lot of wheelchair users get the best out of their wheelchair. I have a couple of comments / questions that may help you (or anyone) implementing a project such as this:
1. How will you publicise the service to the clients? Many developing countries have trouble with internet, cell phone reception and even sending mail can be a bit of a gamble?
2. Will you (please) provide a list of all spare parts available for each chair and prices? This will help people see what they can buy / afford / make projections and budgets AND an estimated cost to the client as they also need to make a budget / save up money, especially if their income is very low...
3. How will you publicise the parts and price list / where can I get a copy from?
4. Do you already have NGOs willing to pay / subsidize this service?
5. Do the wheelchairs need to have been bought through CLASP or will you provide parts for a variety of non-CLASP wheelchairs too?
6. Is CLASP ready to handle the increase in orders (financially and in terms of stock on hand)?
7. Are your in-country partners ready to handle the increase in demand for parts (order projections, warehouse space, shipping documents (import and domestic), unloading containers, Inventory tracking etc)?
That's enough for now! Good luck with the project, I look forward to hearing good things about it.

Photo of Keoke King

Simon. Thanks. Great questions.
1. For promotion, we are thinking of starting at the time of fitting and user training. And, we'd send the user the first SMS message on the same day they receive their chair. Then, roughly once a month, we'd send another SMS. SMS is the primary contact method. But, we could also run a Facebook Group, Twitter account, or other social media depending on what is used in the local area.
2. The full parts list with prices for users is a great idea! That way they will know if buying tires is cheaper via our system or in the nearby shop. Of course, we'd want to encourage budgeting and planning.
3. The parts list would probably be a .pdf and we'd need to post it online. But, since currency, language, and prices will vary, perhaps we need custom urls for each location, like Super question. We've not thought about that yet.
4. None have formally committed so far. But, we're pretty confident.
5. It will be really difficult to supply parts for non-CLASP chairs because we don't have relationships with all manufacturers
6. Yes. We are preparing for 30,000 chairs per year
7. That is a really big question. As we go forward, we will need to establish what CLASP is asking from a local operator. The system needs to be simple and feasible. Our partners are already stretched thin and really busy!

Photo of Eckehardt

Great Idea! This will be a terrific improvement for the lives of wheelchair users in less developed countries
and puts their level of service on par with North America!

Photo of OpenIDEO

Hi Keoke, one last small item can you find an image to help visualize your idea?

Photo of OpenIDEO

Hi Keoke King and Team! We’re excited to share with you feedback and questions from the Amplify team and an external set of experts. We encourage you to think about this feedback as you continue to improve and refine your idea. You are welcome to respond in the comments section and/or to incorporate feedback into the text of your idea. Your idea and all associated comments will all be reviewed during the final review process.

- You clearly address the importance of low cost mobility services - great job!
- We're excited to read about your experience receiving feedback from your beneficiaries. We encourage you to think about how you could integrate your end users into the design and process of your idea! What are some insights you gathered and want to incorporate into your idea?
- We're curious know about the barriers that may face your intended end user. How will you address accessibility to these services? For example, how will you deliver support to areas with irregular or limited access to the internet or mobile service? Who will bear the cost of your proposed systems to expand on CLASP, and to use international shippers and/or local operators and services? Are there existing systems in-country you intend to use?
- We want to know more about your partnership and implementation team in Ethiopia! Have you already partnered with an Ethiopian organization to implement your idea?
- Please clarify the relationship between CLASP and UCP Wheels. Your title states, "UCP Wheels dba CLASP will offer..." but the "Tell us about you" section describes UCP Wheels. We are unclear if CLASP (the business) or UCP Wheels is the implementing team working on this idea.

In case you missed it, check out this Storytelling Toolkit for inspiration for crafting strong and compelling stories: Storytelling is an incredibly useful tool to articulate an idea and make it come to life for those reading it. Don’t forget - June 4 at 11:59PM PST is your last day to make changes to your idea on the OpenIDEO platform.

Have questions? Email us at

Looking forward to reading more!

Photo of Ashley Tillman

Hi Keoke,

Very excited to learn more about the work you are doing in this next phase of the Challenge! Any chance you could find an image to go along with it? Images help grab attention and tell a story. You should be able to use the Edit Contribution button on the top of your post and follow the instructions to add images from there. Looking forward to seeing more of your inspiring insights on OpenIDEO.

Photo of Keoke King

Ashley, thanks for the comment. We have some images together that we are ready to upload but are having difficulty finding the Edit Contribution button you mentioned. A link to our post is not appearing in our profile page. Suggestions? Thanks!

Photo of Lubabalo Mbeki

Hi Keoke, were you able to upload your user experience map? I have been struggling with that and cant find the upload button.

Photo of Gina Cardazone

This seems like a really important issue. I do imagine shipping costs could be challenging, as you mention. I also wonder if there will be problems maintaining contact with customers over time. In the US, I know that a lot of low-income people who use prepaid phones frequently change phone numbers. In Ethiopia, are people with few resources generally able to keep the same phone number? If not, how will you address this challenge with your SMS outreach?

Photo of Keoke King

Gina, thanks for your comment! Shipping cost varies quite a lot. A DHL delivery of a wheelchair can be $2500 but one chair in a container load to the same location could be only $7. To control shipping costs, we will need to ship a stock of parts to locations where we regularly send container load shipments. Mailing costs vary country to country but are affordable in many locations.

Each chair comes with a user manual and other paperwork. We'll put the local wheelchair service provider's number on those documents. If user's change numbers, they will still have that document so they can reach out to us, even if we do not have their current number. In some places, local service providers put their local contact number on a permanent sticker on the bottom of the wheelchair.

Often, people don't think about replacement parts until the product breaks. We hope if we put a local contact number within reach, the user will be able to reach us when needed.

Simple contests, like a raffle to win a phone, have been effective incentives to keep users connected to these SMS communication networks. When a user switches phones, they SMS in to a specified number to register their new number with the SMS service.