International Wheelchair Program

Professor Peter Pfaelzer, of San Francisco State University, tells us he is working on developing international wheelchair production for the Whirlwind projects. The Whirlwind website says:

Whirlwind Wheelchair International (WWI) is the communications hub of the Whirlwind Wheelchair Network of independent wheelchair-producing workshops in developing countries. Founded in 1989 as the Wheeled Mobility Center (WMC), WWI's primary mission is 1) to teach wheelchair riders in developing coutries to design, build, and repair their own wheelchairs; 2) to enable rider/builders to create businesses for the manufacture and distribution of wheelchairs to others; and 3) to foster the ever-widening Whirlwind Network of rider/builders around the world who exchange ideas for the continuous improvement of wheelchair design.

The need for wheelchairs is tremendous. Twenty million disabled people in developing countries need wheelchairs, but less than one percent own or have access to them. This need is estimated by applying the well-known ratio of one wheelchair rider per 200 people in the United States to the four billion people who live in developing countries. In countries where polio and preventable amputations are still common, this is a conservative estimate.

The activities of WWI's Whirlwind Network are based on disseminating and continually updating the design of the Whirlwind wheelchair, a lightweight, low-cost, high-performance, durable wheelchair designed to be effective in the rough urban and rural conditions of developing countries.

Despite being confined to a wheelchair, British MP Anne Begg took part in a hotly-contested annual Pancake Day race in London on February 12. What's more, she led her team of four fellow members of the House of Commons to out-flip a team from the House of Lords.

You can see a photograph of her with her male colleagues, resplendent in collars, ties and chefs' tall white hats and aprons, and read a description of the event, on The Guardian's website.

"The 50-yard dash across College Green in front of the houses of parliament saw the politicians shed their usual levels of dignity and party allegiance to don chefs' hats and aprons in a cross-party relay for charity," said the report. "It was in aid of the brain injury charity Rehab UK and was won by the team headed by Anne Begg, the MP for Aberdeen South."

Asked by email if she had competed in a wheelchair, the MP replied: "I had someone pushing me in the race while I tossed the pancake."

At the age of eight, in 1963, Anne learnt that she was afflicted with Gaucher (pronounced go-shay ) disease , an inherited, but not common, enzyme deficiency disorder. Symptoms range from mild to severe and can appear at any time, from infancy to old age. After receiving severe multiple fractures in her legs and hips, Anne was confined to a wheelchair.

But she has never let her disability hinder her career, first as a teacher and (since 1997) as a Member of Parliament. She recounted her inspiring life story in a 1996 issue of Gaucher News.

"In 1985 when the teachers took industrial action, I became heavily involved in the Trade Union," she wrote. "I had joined the Labour party in 1983 and now in a wheelchair I could go to meetings and take on positions.

"In 1988 I was named Disabled Scot of the Year. By this time I was also involved in community activities, some with disabled connections, such as wheelchair access, and also with equal opportunity issues."

Beneath Anne's story was this editorial note: Whatever your political persuasion, I am sure you will wish Anne the very best of luck in her quest to represent Aberdeen South as their Member of Parliament. Her courage and determination must be an example to all Gauchers sufferers and to disabled men, women and children everywhere.

FOOTNOTE. The 2002 International Pancake Day race, described here in advance, was won by the U.S. team, in Liberal, Kansas. Melissa Hurla ran the 415 yard course in 60.5 seconds, beating the U.K.'s Olney, Buckinghamshire race winner's time by 3.5 seconds. The score since the first race in 1950 is now U.S. 28, U.K. 24. Perhaps Olney should invite Anne Begg to coach their team.

Copyright © 2002. Eric Shackle.