Design without Borders
Wheelchair for children in Guatemala
Transitions Foundation / Fundación Transiciones
Wheelchair for children in Guatemala
Transiciones, who manufacturers low cost wheelchairs for marginalised groups, lacked a wheelchair targeted towards children in its product range.
The needs of a Guatemalan user and the local challenges connected to poor infrastructure, availability of materials, production facilities, costs and ergonomics were taken into the design process.
The project aimed at transfering knowledge about design methodology, to enable the highly skilled technicians at Transiciones to customise wheelchairs more efficiently and continue to design new models.
Jannicke Stensønes Rogne, Industrial Designer, Design without Borders
Magnus Printzell Halvorsen, Engineer and materials specialist, Design without Borders
Juan Carlos Noguera Cardoza, Industrial Designer, Design without Borders
Synne Christiansen, Industrial Designer, Design without Borders
Alex Gálvez, Executive Director
Pragmatic training game to understand the critical decision making required with scarce resources in the field to mitigate disaster.
Wheelchair for children in Guatemala
In partnership with the Guatemalan foundation Transiciones Design without Borders developed a pediatric wheelchair customized to the needs of children in Guatemala. Transiciones, who manufacturers low cost wheelchairs for marginalised groups, lacked a wheelchair targeted towards children in its product range. The needs of a Guatemalan user and the local challenges connected to poor infrastructure, availability of materials, production facilities, costs and ergonomics were taken into the design process. The project aimed at transfering knowledge about design methodology, to enable the highly skilled technicians at Transiciones to customise wheelchairs more efficiently and continue to design new models.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
Guatemala is a developing country, where lacking quality of infrastructure and non-existent support systems make living conditions for disabled people extremely harsh. An estimate of 2 million people live with disabilities in Guatemala. Poor health systems, challenging security conditions and alarmingly high rates of violence in the country aggravates this. Disabled persons receive little to no benefits or assistance from the Guatemalan government, and are dependent on family members, remittances, and charitable non-governmental aid organizations to cover their basic needs for healthcare and equipment. It is therefore of utmost importance to create channels, products and services aimed at aiding people living with disability. Although there is a great need for wheelchairs in Guatemala, supply is limited; the majority of the wheelchairs on the market are imported and expensive. Transiciones manufactures economical wheelchairs for marginalised groups in the country. 70% of the organisation's staff are wheelchair users, giving them unrivalled insight into the challenges wheelchair users meet in everyday life. However, in order to develop more and better wheelchairs at lower costs Transiciones needed to reinforce its expertise and skills in the fields of product development, user participation and design methodology. The foundation had the resources and employees to staff their existing production processes, but lacked design skills to improve and optimise its products and production methods.3. The Intent: What point of view did you bring to the project, and were there additional criteria that you added to the brief?
Transiciones main need was to develop a new wheelchair model, and to learn more about design methodology to strengthen their efforts to manufacture adequate aid equipment for disabled people. Initial research by Design without Borders permitted an overall understanding of the project, stakeholders, context, resources, market and opportunities. This permitted several adjustments to the brief. Amongst other increased focus and a more systematic approach to user insight and user centered approaches could be beneficial for Transiciones work. The decision of what type of wheelchair to design was based on an overall assessment of what would be most beneficial to the different stakeholders. A very close collaboration on the design process and a strong, mutual transfer of knowledge and method was considered crucial for a sustainable result with long term effect. The local technicians working for Transiciones became part of the process instead of merely helping with the process. On the product side, research made it quite clear that many of the imported wheelchairs did not suit the needs of a rural Guatemalan user, with rough terrain and poor infrastructure. A number of opportunities for improvement for a Guatemalan wheelchair user were revealed and taken in to the brief. Transiciones contributed with their staff, workshop facilities and covered expenses for prototyping, whilst Design without Borders contributed with two industrial designers (one Norwegian and one Guatemalan) and an engineer/material specialist. The collaboration was planned for 18 months, with the designers working at Transiciones workshop in Antigua, Guatemala.4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
The project was initialized with a three month long research phase, to establish a thorough picture of the situation and the needs of Transiciones, as well as the users. The designers investigated the potential market for wheelchairs, existing products, production facilities, availability of materials – both for production but also for repair in rural areas - the end user needs, cultural aspects and Transiciones’ opportunities to develop within the field. The research carried out was necessary to possess complete information and an holistic picture of the situation. Several types of wheelchairs were considered for design, amongst them a semi active wheelchair for urban environments, that could potentially provide a sustainable business opportunity for Transiciones. Based on an overall assessment of both stakeholders, Transiciones potential, user needs and market, the collaborating parties decided to develop a pediatric wheelchair for children with special needs. Knowledge transfer of the design process and tools to the staff at Transiciones was considered one of the key factors to insure long term sustainability for the project. Therefore a design team was created, including both the designers from Design without Borders and the technicians at Transiciones. The whole design process was based on co-creation, and ideas and concepts were developed by the technicians at Transiciones. At the same time they were trained in more technical skills necessary for an efficient development process, such as technical drawing, material research and testing, CAD (Computer Assisted Drawing) and training in sketching skills. Management at Transiciones was introduced to service design to gain insight in how interaction in user/producer could be improved. Prototypes of the chair were produced and tested, iterations decided upon and in the end jigs were built to prepare for serial production. The final wheelchair design is highly customized to meet both the specific needs a user in Guatemala faces and to the production materials and facilities that are available locally. Since aluminum is difficult to find in Guatemala, the designers selected steel as the main material for the chairs. Wide BMX tires were selected to perform better on the rough surfaces. The moving parts and wheels of the chair are based on standard bike parts, making them easy to repair in rural Guatemala, where infrastructure is poor and distances needed to travel to replace specialised spare parts long. The sizes of the chair are adjusted to a Guatemalan user, and the most important functions and features are fit for the local context. Emphasis was put on lowering production costs, use of local fabrics and textiles for branding and product identity. Antitip wheels, headrest and armrest were all developed independently by the technicians and available for the product launch; Furthermore, there are also concept drawings for table, cover for rain/sun, leg separator and torso support. Design without Borders contribution to the project was finalized with the official launch of the new wheelchair model in Guatemala in September 2012.5. The Value: How does your project earn its keep in the world? What is its value? What is its impact? (Social, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, environmental, cultural, gladdening, etc.)
Transiciones has developed a model for children's wheelchairs in Guatemala, including a prototype and production manual. The wheelchair is suited to the local topography, climate, access to materials, production facilities, culture and maintenance opportunities. The wheelchair is adaptable to the needs of each child, thus preventing the children's disabilities from becoming more serious due to wrong posture or position. The project has led to enhanced product development expertise and skills at Transiciones. Today Transiciones are able to streamline production lines and also has increased materials knowledge and knowledge about systematic gathering and use of user information. All this makes for products of better quality. Transiciones is strengthened as an organisation, and can, if wanted, move on to become an economically more self sustainable business model. The manufacture of the wheelchair also supports other local business, through the use of locally available materials and production methods. In the long term the re-enforcement of the business will enable more disabled people to earn a living. Better access to wheelchairs for children means more children in education.6. Did the context of your project change throughout its development? If so, how did your understanding of the project change?
The project was initially a specific request to Design without Borders by Transiciones. A pre project research by Design without Borders and the initial research conducted by the designers in field, confirmed the potential within this project. Transiciones had no other models in production that could cover the needs of children, and had previously not been able to offer anything to this patient group. The close collaboration with the local project partner Transiciones, and the strong emphasis of knowledge transfer, were to ensure that the product development was in line with user and partner needs.7. How will your project remain economically and operationally sustainable in the long term?
The transfer of knowledge is an essential part of the projects sustainability. Transiciones goal is to become a financially self sustainable organisation through the wheelchair workshop. Increased knowledge and skills in design processes is an important contribution to this development. Products developed specifically for Guatemala, give Transiciones a unique position in the market. Providing the right tools for Transiciones to reach their goal, increases the long term economic sustainability. The long term sustainability of this project relies on Transiciones continuation of it. A successful product - the pediatric wheelchair - is a prerequisite for a good learning experience. User feedback so far has confirmed that the product is fulfilling the user needs. Transiciones has established systems to ensure continuous collection of user feedback, and this will be used to improve future iterations. Transiciones are now fully capable of implementing product changes when required. A design competition initiated by Design without Borders amongst Transiciones staff, proved that they now are capable of carrying out independent design processes based on methodology and techniques learnt through the collaboration. Universidad Rafael Landivar has for more than 10 years been a partner to Design without Borders, and was also collaborating during this project. The involvement of a local, Guatemalan industrial designer also gives Transiciones access to industrial design expertise when required.