The vision of the Free Wheelchair Mission (FWM) is a world where everyone who needs a wheelchair has one. A humanitarian nonprofit that designs and manufactures cost-efficient, durable wheelchairs for developing countries, the Mission was founded by Dr. Don Schoendorfer in 2001. A biomechanical engineer, Schoendorfer was inspired to use his MIT- honed biomedical skills to help solve the current global mobility crisis that has an estimated 75 million people around the world that are in need of, but can’t get, a mobility device.
Without mobility, educational and employment opportunities are limited, if not nonexistent which leads to the continuation of the cycle of poverty and economic hardship for entire families. Recognizing this link Schonendorfer and his team work have worked tirelessly to provide ‘simple’ adaptive equipment wherever they can.
The need for wheelchairs is staggering and traditional equipment costs insurmountable when collectively considered, however, FWM can build, assemble and deliver a basic chair for less than $100 USD. Sure, FWM’s wheelchairs are minimalistic in design, but they’re cost-effective, and highly functional. The chairs are modelled with locally-available resources while still maintaining product standards.
Today, in collaboration with a network of like-minded partners, more than 1.3 million of Schoendorfer’s wheelchairs have been distributed in 94 developing countries. Each one provides renewed dignity and increased independence, at no cost to the recipient.
In December 2022, Dr. Schoendorfer published his book entitled “Miracle Wheels: The Story of a Mission to Bring Mobility to the World.” In it he recounts the many years he has spent pursuing what he thought was his vision of success when one trip to Africa changed his life. As he tells it, the heartbreaking scenes he witnessed on the streets of Morocco sent him on unexpected path of despair, faith, and ultimately newfound purpose. Don’s story is both a remarkable and emotional journey that shows what one man can do to overcoming challenges and create hope for millions. freewheelchairmission.org ϖ
Ashley Bouman is an editorial assistant with an interest in disability advocacy.