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University of Connecticut Assistive Technology Oral History Project

Ralf Hotchkiss

Date: June 22, 2009

Ralf Hotchkiss is a wheelchair rider who started Whirlwind Wheelchairs in 1980. After designing wheelchairs for 14 years. He then traveled to Europe, Canada, & Mexico for additional design ideas, but was disappointed by what he found.  

Fortunately, he met four young kids in a rehabilitation center in Nicaragua who knew more about wheelchair design than any of the people he had met in the Western wheelchair industry.

Ralf helped set up a Whirlwind Wheelchair factory with these young men which is now producing wheelchairs that are stronger, lighter, and cheaper. Presently he travels to Nicaragua annually to visit the four Whirlwind Wheelchair factories he has set in motion there.

Ralf has been responsible for the startup of 60 Whirlwind Wheelchair factories around the world that are pumping out thousands of wheelchairs every year. People with disabilities design and produce the wheelchairs.

There was also a young woman who worked with the original four young men. She was the chief sewing expert in the group and turned out to be a fantastic wheelchair designer. There is another great skill this woman has, and you can find that in one of the snippets.

Finally, the young man who was the best designer in the original group had some serious medical problems and nearly died. Eventually he made his way to the United States. You'll be very surprised to learn what he is doing for a living and where he is doing it. When you download the transcript you will learn that (page 5), and more.

Snippet 1: "Where did you get your best advice on wheelchair design?"

Snippet 2: "What was the public relations event that the group of youngsters arranged?"


Download: Full Transcript