Question & Answer

Saturday, August 31, 2002

Non-profit donates used wheelchairs

NORTH HOLLYWOOD, Calif. - Last month, the executive director of Wheels for Humanity, David Richard, returned from back-to-back trips to Thailand and the Philippines. In the two third-world countries, he and his team helped deliver some 300 new and refurbished wheelchairs. Wheels for Humanity, a small, non-profit organization based here, will repeat this mission roughly 18 times in a year. Hugh Shellenberger, Wheels for Humanity's chief operating officer, spoke with HME News about how and why they do it.

HME NEWS: Where do the wheelchairs that you distribute come from?

HUGH SHELLENBERGER: An individual might donate a wheelchair. It could have been sitting in his garage after a grandparent passed away. We get wheelchairs from medical treatment facilities. We get wheelchairs from manufacturers and providers, too. These wheelchairs might have a scratch in the paint, or they were sold and then were returned.

HME NEWS: How many wheelchairs do you distribute in a year?

HS: Last year, we distributed about 3,000 wheelchairs to about 25 different third-world countries. We typically distribute 175 wheelchairs - one container - per trip. We also distribute about the same amount of other medical equipment, like walkers and commodes.

HME NEWS: How many of the wheelchairs come from manufacturers and providers?

HS: I would say about 15%.

HME NEWS: What kind of difference do the donated wheelchairs make?

HS: The people we give wheelchairs to might be getting around by sitting on a skateboard, pushing themselves along with their gloved hands. If it's a child, he's probably never been far from his home or even his bedroom.

HME NEWS: How do you ensure the wheelchairs you distribute are appropriate for these people?

HS: We start off by getting a photo of the person through whomever we're partnering with there, be it a church or the local hospital. Then we'll have a physical therapist work with our warehouse manager to match the person with a wheelchair we've been donated.

HME NEWS: What other professionals are involved?

HS: When we go out on trips, we have a five- or six-member team. We'll take at least one physical therapist who has specific training in fitting wheelchairs. Or, we'll take a seating specialist. We also get three other individuals with some kind of professional experience.

HME NEWS: In all, how many people work for the organization?

HS: We have four and a half full-time employees and about 1,200 volunteers who have logged 15,000 hours of service. HME