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Houston Matters

Engineer Designs Cheap, Durable Wheelchair To Distribute In Developing Countries

Don Schoendorfer talks with Houston Matters about how his organization, Free Wheelchair Mission, works and the difference it’s making in lives.

Don Schoendorfer of Free Wheelchair Mission distributes a wheelchair to a disabled girl in Peru.


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Don Schoendorfer (left) and Aaron Jean of Free Wheelchair Mission pose with one of the organization’s wheelchair designs.

Don Schoendorfer is a biomedical engineer with a doctorate from MIT. When he started tinkering with parts from old lawn chairs and bicycles, some thought he was losing his mind. His wife wasn't a fan of all the debris in their garage either.

But Don was working to make prototype after prototype of a better – and above all cheaper – wheelchair.

His goal: to make it easier and more cost-effective to give wheelchairs to the disabled in developing countries.

Don now heads the non-profit Free Wheelchair Mission.

A documentary about his organization’s work, called Because No One Should Have to Crawl, will be screened tonight (April 17) at Houston's iPic theater.

In the audio above, we revisit Michael Hagerty’s conversation with Schoendorfer from 2015 about how his program works, the difference it's making in lives, and what makes the wheelchair design he ended up with better.