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Sunday September 21, 2014
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Wheelchairity

 

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The wheelchairs are really hand-powered tricycles, designed to give disabled people access to work and a regular life where rough terrain makes conventional wheelchairs impractical. They're driven by the circular motion of the user's hands, rotating a small cogwheel linked by a chain to the chair's front wheel. Designed by an aircraft engineer, the chairs are built for durability-tires are solid rubber, not inflated-with a simple and practical design that makes for easy reassembly and repair in villages without many tools or parts. In fact, they are shipped with a wrench and Phillips screwdriver, along with replacement bearings and other parts most prone to wear. Though they are not literally "all-terrain vehicles"-limitations include the arm strength of the driver and the roughness of the terrain-a low gear ratio allows the PETs to work off-road, and direct drive makes them easy to reverse.

As his dad explains the chairs to a visiting reporter, L.B. tries to get him back to work by bringing out cans of red, green, and blue paint. The bright colors were chosen, Minnette says, because people find them "uplifting." One PET, though, was painted purple and white. Volunteers from Pioneer High, who had heard of the project through an Ann Arbor Rotary meeting, donated $250-enough for one PET-and persuaded Minnette to paint it in their school colors.

Due to the time and money spent creating the shop and training volunteers, the Saline PET unit has thus far produced only a dozen or so wheelchairs, but Minnette hopes to produce a hundred per year in the near future. He estimates that PET International ships about one thousand units per year, including 150 recently purchased by the U.S. military for use in Iraq.

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