McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

State House

April 10, 2014

UCO community develops $200 wheelchair prototype

EDMOND — Last month, the Congressional Research Service reported that a total of 1,558 soldiers who served in Afghanistan and Iraq endured major limb amputations due to battlefield injuries. They include the loss of one or more limbs, the loss of one or more partial limbs or the loss of one or more full or partial hand or foot.

In 2010, the New York Times reported that many Haiti earthquake-related amputees had no place to go after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince.

Eighty percent of amputees live in the developing world, according to the Range of Motion Project.

Monday through Thursday UCO’s Students for an Accessible Society presented its annual Disability Awareness Week. Earlier theme days were related to visual impairment, hidden disabilities and relevant vendors.

Thursday morning, ambulatory individuals got to experience what it’s like to be confined to a wheelchair as they maneuvered through an obstacle course.

Maurice Haff, an instructor of entrepreneurship and innovation in the University of Central Oklahoma’s Department of Management, said amputees are not disabled because of a missing limb; they are disabled because of an absent prosthesis.

Haff said standard wheelchairs are not suitable to the rough terrain generally present in developing countries. Haff said several rugged wheelchairs have been developed, but they suffer from some of the same limitations.

Haff and other members of the UCO community including student volunteers and various entities are developing an affordable and versatile wheelchair to help amputees get to where they want to go.

In January, the Get People Moving project was started by UCO students and faculty members as an entry in the Donald W. Reynolds Governor’s Cup business plan competition, Haff said. The unique one-size-fits-all design features two large front wheels and a smaller rear wheel that increases torque in rough-terrain, an ergonomic seat that helps prevent future problems like pressure sores, an adjustable seat height for easier mounting and dismounting and indoor-outdoor capabilities, Haff said.

Thursday morning, Haff brought the current prototype of the wheelchair, which has a target price point of $200, to the main sidewalk along Broncho Lake.

“This is the bare bones, the minimally viable product,” Haff said of the recently patented prototype. “How do you make it user friendly? That’s what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Haff said the Veterans Administration is interested in the wheelchair, and he hopes non-governmental organizations will send it to developing countries across the world.

At the scene of the maze event, Haff was getting feedback from individuals. Students were trying out a couple of racing wheelchairs. UCO senior Taylor Young went through the maze, which involved traversing a series of ramps and a garden hose.

Young, who was born with spina bifida, a birth defect in which the bones of the spine do not form properly around the spinal cord, but can also get around with crutches, said he likes the fact that the university has events like Disability Awareness Week.

“I think it’s really cool,” Young said. “I like it a lot.”

Haff said there are some two million amputees in the U.S.

UCO Disability Support Services include note-taking assistance, exam accommodations, alternate text format, accessibility accommodations, permission to record class lectures, individualized suggestions for accommodations in the classroom and special tables and chairs. | 341-2121, ext. 108

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