SafariSeat: Open-Source Wheelchair for Developing Countries


SEATTLE, Washington — Due to a lack of resources, it is important for developing countries to come up with cost-effective and efficient solutions to improve the lives of those with disabilities. The World Health Organization estimates that in a developing country, disabilities increase a person’s living costs by around 9-14%. For many already living in poverty, this is an added cost they simply cannot afford. SafariSeat is an open-source wheelchair that is helping low-income countries, especially within Africa, to mobilize disabled individuals who otherwise struggle to move around.

Disabilities in Developing Countries

Roughly 15% of the global population identifies as having a disability, and 80% of these individuals live in developing countries. The reason why this number is concentrated in developing countries is that one of the main causes of disability is infectious and communicable diseases, often common in developing countries like Africa. The HIV/AIDS epidemic has further contributed to the prevalence of disability because many people living with HIV develop physical impairments and functional limitations.

However, developing countries often lack the resources and facilities to properly care for and accommodate those with disabilities. Skilled healthcare professionals are lacking and so is training that focuses on rehabilitating people with disabilities. Those who do have the training end up leaving developing countries to pursue better opportunities.

The U.N. Disability Convention

In 2006, the United Nations recognized that the disability crisis in developing countries was in dire need of a solution. The result of this was the creation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The purpose of the Convention is to ensure that people with disabilities enjoy the same fundamental human rights and freedoms as others. The Convention outlines principles such as non-discrimination, inclusion and participation in society, equal opportunity, respect as well as and freedom of choice and independence.

To support the implementation of this Convention, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) created the Toolkit on Disability for Africa. This toolkit gives tools and guidance to various levels of officials and disability organizations on how to better the lives of those living with disabilities.

The SafariSeat Open-Source Wheelchair

Individuals like Janna Deeble have been working to improve the lives of those with disabilities in developing countries. Deeble invented the SafariSeat, which is an open-source wheelchair that can be made out of recycled bicycle parts in a basic workshop. This makes the wheelchair affordable, accessible and easy to repair. The wheelchair can also withstand different kinds of terrain. A simple mechanism that mimics car suspension, ensures that all wheels remain on the ground at all times for sufficient stability.

Deeble’s inspiration was Letu, a man he met in Kenya. Letu contracted polio as a child, and ever since, lost his ability to walk. Because he didn’t have the resource of a wheelchair, his only mode of transportation was crawling. After Deeble himself experienced short-term immobility due to an accident, he decided that it was time to give people like Letu the resource needed to improve mobility and improve the quality of their lives.

The Future of SafariSeat

In East Africa alone, one in 200 people need a wheelchair and cannot live an independent life because of this lacking resource. Due to the open-source nature of SafariSeat, design blueprints are easily accessible at no cost, enabling community workshops to create low-cost wheelchairs for those who need them. SafariSeat has helped Letu reclaim his independence, and Deeble hopes it will help many others discover the same freedom along with an improved quality of life.

Olivia Bay
Photo: Flickr


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