Duke Duncan, a public health professor at the University of Arizona, is supporting efforts to bring the RoughRider to wheelchair users in Mexico through the Arizona Sonora Border Project (Photo by Cecelia Marshall).
Story by CECELIA MARSHALL for Arizona Public Media (NPR)
Getting around some parts of Mexico can be difficult for people who use wheelchairs. It’s like an obstacle course: there are potholes, uneven sidewalks and muddy dirt roads.
But the nonprofit Arizona Sonora Borders Project is making it easier for people in wheel chairs to get moving across Mexico—thanks to the RoughRider.
At first glance, the RoughRider looks like your regular wheelchair. It has big wheels in the back and small wheels in the front. But Duke Duncan, a public health professor at the University of Arizona and enthusiastic partner of the Arizona Sonora Border Project, says the man who designed the RoughRider was after something unique and rather different from the average wheelchair.
“The chairs are made from scratch,” said Duncan. “We have pieces of pipe and he has a bender that can shape these things so the shaping can be done to make the chair.”
The all-terrain RoughRider was developed by Ralph Hotchkiss, an engineer in San Francisco who uses a wheelchair himself. In a YouTube video, Hotchkiss explains how he makes these chairs.
The RoughRider wheelchair can essentially go off-roading, making its way over roots, rocks and other obstacles. It’s now sold worldwide, and commercials like this one are getting people’s attention:
The RoughRider wheelchairs are especially popular in Mexico, where wheelchair users don’t always have access to smooth sidewalks or ramps. Duncan says the RoughRider is making it easier for people in Mexico and other parts of the world to get around.
“You see people …. in wheelchairs that are not that appropriate for the terrain in which they are there. And I also know there are a lot of organizations that contribute wheelchairs to developing countries but know these wheelchairs were not appropriate nor did they last very long,” he said. “So when the wheelchair broke down, they were gone. There was no way to repair it.”
Kiko Terrera manages the All Terrain Wheelchair Shop in Nogales, Sonora. It’s part of the Arizona Sonora Border Project, builds RoughRiders and provides them at low cost to wheelchair users in Mexico.
“It makes their lives a lot easier and they can definitely live a more dignified life,” said Terrera in a phone call from his shop.
Despite the Arizona Sonora Border Project’s efforts to keep costs down, a customized wheelchair like the RoughRider can cost more than $250, putting it out of financial reach for a lot of people in Mexico, Duncan says. He says the nonprofit is trying to find new sources of funding to buy these chairs.
“We need people to help subsidize the families to pay the difference between the cost of the chair and what they can afford,” said Duncan.
Duncan says his work doesn’t end with the RoughRider. He also has plans in the works to provide prosthetics, hearing aids and walkers for people in Mexico who have trouble getting around.