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UN Programme on Disability   Working for full participation and equality
Theme: Employment and Sustainable Livelihoods

Employment and sustainable livelihoods
of people with disabilities

"Momentum International Wheelchair Production Facility" at Quito: existing situation, specific social group involvement, and critical issues addressed

Seminar on Employment and Sustainable Livelihoods of Persons with Disabilities; issues in technology transfer, microcredit and institutional development (United Nations, 26 April 1999)

Employment and sustainable
livelihoods of people with disabilities

Contributed Papers

  • Manuel Cárdenas and Scot Hollonbeck - "Momentum International Wheelchair Production Facility" at Quito: existing situation, specific social group involvement, and critical issues addressed

Manuel Cárdenas and Scot Hollonbeck*

People with disabilities live with great adversity and struggle daily to adapt their lives to the ways around them. We are entering a new century, the twenty-first century, filled with technological advances, educational opportunities and progressive attitudes: unless you are a person with a disability. Then, unfortunately, your life is different, limited by the lack of insight into your potential, your aspirations and your basic needs of assistance.

The goal of the Momentum International Foundation is to sustain and grow a project that will help to provide wheelchairs to disadvantaged people with disabilities in Ecuador. To accomplish this goal, Momentum International has designed and developed a project to address these needs through the creation and management of a wheelchair production and buying structure: the Momentum International Wheelchair Production Facility at Quito.

The country of Ecuador has a population of nearly 11 million people. According to the statistics of the National Institute of Children and Families of the University of Central Ecuador in 1980 - the most recent period for which data are available - two million (or more than18 percent) are members of the country's disabled community. Many could be productive, active and healthy citizens with the use of wheelchairs. However, they have no means of personal mobility and no funds to pay for the same. This status fosters inequality, abandonment, mobility restrictions, educational limitations, employment problems and a number of other critical obstacles that affect the human rights of people with disabilities.

Prior to the opening of the Momentum International Wheelchair Facility in December 1997, only the very wealthy had access to adequate wheelchairs, mainly through importation from the United States; some wheelchairs were received as charitable donations. However, prior to late 1997, there were no wheelchair factories in Ecuador. At this moment, it is estimated that more than 50,000 wheelchairs are needed to accommodate the mobility needs of people with disabilities in Ecuador.

Many other Latin American countries also lack wheelchair production facilities and have a great need for good, affordable wheelchairs. While there has been some wheelchair collection and distribution of used equipment in the past from non-profit organizations, studies have shown that this is not a wise solution to the problem. Not only is this inadequate and inefficient, this also can lead to major problems involving the upkeep and maintenance of used wheelchairs. Problems obtaining appropriate parts and securing knowledgeable repairs simply add to the dilemma.

The above stated critical issues will further be addressed through the implementation and strategic development of the wheelchair manufacturing facility at Quito, which aims to provide a new way of meaningful living for people with disabilities in Ecuador. The Momentum Wheelchair Production Facility will be a sustainable, long-term enterprise that benefits the economy of Ecuador and supplies jobs and education to people with disabilities.

In the design for the Momentum Wheelchair Production Facility, the basic idea was to take two young people who are wheelchair users and sports enthusiasts and place them in an internship program where they could learn the engineering behind the manufacture of wheelchairs. The two interns already had a basic knowledge of how to do wheelchair repairs from the many times that they needed to maintain their own - very old - wheelchairs. In timing they would be supervised by experts and technicians who work at a busily, functioning private factory in the United States - the Eagle Sports Chair Corporation. Here, they would learn how to custom fit wheelchairs to meet clients needs, utilizing basic principles of physics, anatomy, and sports performance technology. The two interns began working with basic materials and learned the theories necessary to develop new designs of both everyday and sports wheelchairs. After one year of experience they are ready and able to return to Ecuador with the advanced knowledge and abilities required to design, build, and teach wheelchair manufacturing to the staff of the Momentum Wheelchair Production Facility.

* President and Chairperson of the Board, respectively, Fundación Momentum Internaciónal (Quito, Ecuador). The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations Secretariat.


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