Pediatric patients at Alyn Hospital in Israel have a little fun while testing out a new wheelchair developed by Wheelchairs of Hope. Pediatric patients at Alyn Hospital in Israel have a little fun while testing out a new wheelchair developed by Wheelchairs of Hope. Pediatric patients have a little fun while testing out a new wheelchair developed by Wheelchairs of Hope. (Photo: Courtesy photo)

Group donates hundreds of wheelchairs to disabled children around the world

Wheelchairs of Hope's unique design is colorful, lightweight and inexpensive.

While wheelchairs have been around for centuries, models designed specifically for children have been a challenge. So two Israeli entrepreneurs hatched a plan and launched Wheelchairs of Hope. The organization creates colorful, plastic, low-cost wheelchairs that are more user-friendly and weigh about 10 pounds less than the average wheelchair.

The first 250 models have just rolled off the assembly line and were delivered to hospitals in Israel. Hundreds more are being sent to disabled children in Peru and Tajikistan. The World Health Organization in Switzerland, the Red Cross and UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) all joined hands on the project. Beit Issie Shapiro, an Israel-based nonprofit that helps create technology for disabled youth, also took part.

Wheelchairs of Hope was founded by Chava Rothstein, who spent her career in the consumer products industry, and Pablo Kaplan, who has a background in plastics design. They teamed up with Israel-based Ziv Av Engineering, a plastics mold company that has worked on other alternative wheelchair models.

“The problem with today’s standard wheelchair is that it is not designed with kids in mind,” Kaplan said. “The current wheelchairs available for kids are merely adult wheelchairs, just reduced in size. As a vital piece of medical equipment, a wheelchair that is both practical and appealing for kids could make all the difference.”

Pablo Kaplan (left) and Chava Rothstein, co-founders of Wheelchairs of Hope.Pablo Kaplan (left) and Chava Rothstein, co-founders of Wheelchairs of Hope. (Photo: Courtesy photo)

Using a 3D printer, they made a prototype and brought it to a local hospital in Israel for the kids to try out. “We wanted to see the chair with actual patients to see how it would perform on both an emotional level and technical level,” said Kaplan. “It was very emotional for us because when the children moved from a traditional chair to ours, they didn’t want to give it back! Parents wanted to buy it on the spot.”

Israeli innovation has provided a hotbed of activity around wheelchair reinvention in recent years. A musician came up with the idea for a wheelchair that steps up over curbs, and a farmer designed a wheelchair that can traverse more rugged terrain. The latter device is now being used by an extreme athlete who's paralyzed to still be able to go bungee-jumping.

"The wheelchair provides mobility,” Kaplan said. “Mobility provides access to education and empowers independence. This is the core of our project.”

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