Global Work: Specific


In India, the number of people using inappropriate wheelchairs or none at all is enormous. These facts prompted the Indian government to seek collaboration with National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) and US wheelchair designers to improve the quality of their wheelchairs. The result has been a collaborative design project between HERL and Artificial Limb Manufacturing Company(the largest wheelchair manufacturer in India) since 2000.

In 2001, representatives from HERL visited the Indian Spinal Injury Center (ISIC) and the ALIMCO manufacturing plant to establish the relationship and begin the design process. They informally evaluated ALIMCO’s current wheelchair design, and established priorities for collaboration. A HERL design team was formed, consisting of Rory Cooper, Mark McCartney, Emily Zipfel, Jeremy Puhlman, Jon Pearlman, and Rosemarie Cooper. By 2004 the design team had built and delivered to ALIMCO the first India Chair prototype, a lightweight, somewhat adjustable, comfortable, easy to maneuver, durable, and reliable wheelchair.

After the 2004 visit, the HERL India design team returned to the drawing board to develop a Tilt-in Space Pediatric Wheelchair for ALIMCO. This type of chair can provide a good option for many children with disabilities who may be unable to independently shift weight and/or do not have the skills necessary to operate a power wheelchair.

In March 2005, the India Design team returned to India to deliver the Pediatric Wheelchair prototype, this time joined by R. Lee Kirby, M.D. from the Nova Scotia Rehab Centre in Canada. While in India, HERL director Rory Cooper also presented features and utilities of wheelchairs to more than 50 people at a program conducted by the Rotary Club of metro Kanpur. The design teams also visited and conducted a wheelchair workshop at the Indian Spinal Injury Center (ISIC) in New Delhi. The ISIC is working towards establishing a graduate school in medical rehabilitation with the guidance from Pitt’s School of Health and Rehab Sciences.

Both the pediatric and manual wheelchair prototypes will bring large scale wheelchair manufacturing to India and give Indian citizens with disabilities affordable and appropriate mobility devices. 

The final phase of the ALIMCO-HERL collaboration planned thus far is to develop an electric powered wheelchair. Both the pediatric and manual wheelchair prototypes will bring large scale wheelchair manufacturing to India and give Indian citizens with disabilities affordable and appropriate mobility devices. 

The final phase of the ALIMCO-HERL collaboration planned thus far is to develop an electric powered wheelchair, funded by the National Science Foundation.



India Chair Website (Manual Chair, 1st Prototype)

India Sports Chair Website

Pediatric Chair parts list (PDF)

Pediatric Chair drawings (PDF)



Product design:

Pearlman J, Cooper RA, Chhabra HS, Jefferds A, Design, Development, and Testing of a Low Cost Electric Powered Wheelchair for India, Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology, pp. 42-57, Vol. 4, No. 1, January 2009.

Zipfel E, Cooper RA, Pearlman J, Cooper RM, McCartney M, New Design and Development of a Manual Wheelchair for India, Disability and Rehabilitation, pp. 949-962, Vol. 29, No. 11-12, June 2007.

Authier EL, Pearlman J, Allegretti A, Rice I, Cooper RA, A Sports Wheelchair for Low Income Counties, Disability and Rehabilitation, pp. 963-967, Vol. 29, No. 11-12, June 2007.

Kirby RL, Cooper RA, Applicability of the Wheelchair Skills Program to the Indian Context, Disability and Rehabilitation, pp. 969-972, Vol. 29, No. 11-12, June 2007.

Technology provision:

Jefferds AN, Beyene NM, Upadhyay N, Shoker P, Pearlman JL, Cooper RA, Wee J, Current State of Mobility Technology Provision in Less-Resourced Countries,PM&R Clinics of North America, pp. 221-242, Vol. 21, No. 1, February 2010 .

Pearlman J, Cooper RA, Krizack M, Lindsley A, Wu Y, Reisinger K, Armstrong W, Casanova H, Chhabra HS, Noon  J, Lower-limb Prostheses and Wheelchairs in Low Income Countries: An Overview,  IEEE-EMBS Magazine (special Quality of Life Technology issue), pp. 12-22, Vol. 27, No. 2, March/April 2008. 

Pearlman J, Cooper RA, Zipfel E, Cooper RM, McCartney M, Towards the Development of an Effective Technology Transfer Model of Wheelchairs to Developing Countries, Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology, pp. 103-110, Vol. 1, No. 1-2, January-June 2006.




In 2005, HERL faculty and students consulted in the city of Cali to develop an ISO wheelchair testing laboratory.




The Brazilian Wheelchair Project transferred information about research conducted at HERL to clinicians and consumers of wheeled mobility in Brazil. This was done by writing a series of articles in Portuguese and English and making them accessible to consumers and clinicians via the HERL website.

Volume 1


Volume 2




Traditional charitable models for helping people with disabilities gain mobility in developing countries have focused on providing them with donated wheelchairs. These efforts have resulted in an increase in the mobility of people with disabilities around the world. Unfortunately, in many examples, children grow out of the wheelchairs or the wheelchair breaks leaving the child or adult without effective mobility for a period of time until they can secure a new wheelchair. In addition, the demand for wheelchairs exceeds the supply in many developing countries resulting in long waitlists of children and adults who need wheelchairs but can’t get them.

The 4R Model for Lifelong Mobility (Recycle, Reuse, Repair, Retrofit) is designed to solve these problems by increasing the lifecycle of donated wheelchairs. This population level approach aims to achieve equilibrium between the need for wheelchairs and the level of donated wheelchairs available at any one location. Currently, there are very few options for people with disabilities in developing countries with broken wheelchairs because parts and tools required to repair the wheelchairs are not readily available. The 4R Model establishes a depot of parts and tools accompanied by technicians who are trained to identify common problems with wheelchairs and fix them. By extending the life of donated wheelchairs, the 4R model can decrease the amount of time a person with a disability spends without a wheelchair. The ultimate goal is to develop the 4R model so that can be disseminated and used around the world.

The Benter Foundation has facilitated an active collaboration between American Wheelchair Mission (AWM) and the Teletón Children’s Rehabilitation Centers or CRITs (Spanish: Centro de Rehabilitación Infantil) in Mexico along with the Carnegie Mellon University, Mercyhurst College and the University of Pittsburgh’s Human Engineering Research Laboratory (HERL) to develop and pilot test the 4R model in one CRIT site in Mexico at Guanajuato.