Singapore, 5 May 2007 – Device gives wheelchair users greater access
When wheelchair user Mr Mohammed Hussain Bin Abdul Jabbar travels on the road, he does so with the apprehension of getting stuck, whether it is at an insurmountable roadside kerb, or over an open drain cover. His situation is one which many standard wheelchair users face when they go about the streets of Singapore today.
Faced with such situations, the 48-year-old bookbinder with poliomyelitis would normally make a detour to continue on his way, sometimes needing to go a much longer way before he finds an accessible route.
This inconvenience is set to change with the introduction of the wheelchair enabler. The device, the brainchild of the Society for the Physically Disabled (SPD), is conceived to be an affordable, modular device that can be easily attached to the standard wheelchair to enable users to mount kerbs, cross gaps and propel easily over uneven terrain.
Recognising the potential of such a device in helping wheelchair users, SPD organised the Wheelchair Enabler Invention Competition in May last year, calling on the public to submit their ideas and proposals for the development of the wheelchair enabler. This resulted in 14 proposals received, out of which six prototypes were made. From these, three winning entries were chosen for their practicality and usability, originality, safety and cost efficiency.
The winning entries were exhibited and demonstrated at the Wheelchair Enabler Invention Competition Prize Presentation Ceremony held on 5 May 2007 at Pasir Ris Bus Interchange. The event was graced by Mr Cedric Foo, MP for West Coast GRC and Chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport. At the event, the three winning teams demonstrated how their devices could help wheelchair users to cross gaps and propel up slopes. With further development, the gap enabler could possibly also help wheelchair users to board and alight from Wheelchair Accessible Buses without the bus captains having to deploy the bus ramp.
The top winning entry was a force enabler, which uses a simple mechanism attached to the side of the wheelchair to prevent wheelchair users from rolling down a slope as they make their way up. This device is particularly helpful for those with weak hand functions.
This was the creation of two Mechatronics Engineering students from ITE College Central (Tampines). Mr Abdul Rahman Bin Zainal Abidin and Mr Ahcmad Juliansah Bin Noor Alwi went home with $3,000 in prize money, while the other two winning teams which produced devices that helped wheelchair users to cross gaps went home with $1,000 and $500 respectively. All three entries came from ITE College Central.
Abdul Rahman and Ahcmad Juliansah took a month to finalise the idea for the force enabler, and another two months to fabricate the initial prototye. This was followed by a month of tweaking before a perfect model was made ready for submission. The duo paid $5 for springs, screws, nuts and glue and used reused materials in making the prototype.
The entries went under the scrutiny of a panel of five judges including representatives from MCYS and the Singapore Association of Occupational Therapists, a wheelchair user and an engineer.
“No environment can be made totally barrier free. Gaps, kerbs and uneven surfaces would inevitably exist. With the wheelchair enabler, disabled people are empowered to give themselves accessibility, rather than to have to wait for building designers to make the environment barrier-free for them. We hope a manufacturer would be able to see the merits of the wheelchair enabler and look to its development commercially so that we will see it being used on the roads in the next two years,” said Dr Ow Chee Chung, Executive Director of SPD.
“There are wheelchair users who stay at home because they are afraid of the difficulty going onto the roads. Having the wheelchair enabler, especially if it is affordable, will encourage them to come out and not stay at home. For me, it will definitely help me get around faster!”, said Hussain, who is also an active wheelchair basketball player.
The competition was made possible by the support of WBL Corporation Ltd (“Wearnes”) in sponsoring the prizes for the event.