Background: The overall impact of a wheelchair on its user must be evaluated in light of both benefit and risk. Evaluation should include not only physical function, but also overall quality of life, integration into society, and cost effectiveness. The current study examined the impact of a donated, inexpensively made wheelchair on recipients in 2 different countries.
Material/methods: 188 recipients of the Free Wheelchair Mission (FWM) wheelchair in India and Peru were surveyed in their local setting and language by social workers. Results were entered and transferred electronically for analysis.
Results: At the time of the survey, the wheelchairs had been in use for an average of 18 months. 93.1% of recipients used their wheelchair more than 1 hour/day. Receipt and use of the FWM chair resulted in a significant shift toward independent function in 5 of 6 areas drawn from the International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health. The greatest maintenance problem was with the tires (19.7%), similar in frequency to reported U.S. users. There was an unexpected 11.7% decrease in the incidence of pressure ulcers with use of the wheelchair, most likely associated with increased mobility. Reported pain levels were not believed by participants to be related to use of the wheelchair. The impact on health and quality of life was generally viewed as positive. Monetary cost of the wheelchair is minimal.
Conclusions: In summary, recipient evaluation of the Free Wheelchair Mission wheelchair in 2 different countries has shown a positive, cost-effective benefit to both health and function without unusual risk.