Pitt Group Working to Introduce a New World for Wheelchairs

By: Chuck Finder and Tim Betler

Wheelchair users around the planet long have experienced issues with availability of equipment, repair, manufacture and oversight. In fact, even standards and professionalism across the United States vary dramatically.

Now a group of University of Pittsburgh scientists will be attempting to unify the wheelchair world – thanks to a two-year, $2.3 million sub-award from the U.S. Agency for International Development and Advancing Partners and Communities.

“The goals of the grant are to help professionalize wheelchair services around the world, from manufacture to repairs to testing to certification of the people trained in those areas,” said Jon Pearlman, Ph.D., assistant professor, Rehabilitation Science and Technology (RST) from the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. “USAID is part of the federal Department of State, and they try to spread the mission of the United States internationally. In this case, it’s a grant to the University of Pittsburgh, but to build a network and an ability to professionalize around the world to contribute to this common goal – which is to improve the lives of wheelchair users.”

“There are three main components of the grant,” added Mary Goldberg, a fellow RST assistant professor and Human Engineering Research Laboratories associate. “There is a training side where we will be building capacity for wheelchair service providers around the world. We also will be developing standards for wheelchair technologies. Thirdly, we will be doing an advocacy and outreach campaign, and through this campaign we’re recruiting so we will have affiliates from every continent who will help us carry out our mission.”