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Participant Assistive Products raises funds, expands wheelchair access globally

By: Katy Brennan

According to the World Bank, approximately 15 percent of the world population, or 1 billion people, have a disability. Of those billion, 70 million require a wheelchair. However, only 10% of them have the mobility aid they require, leaving millions without access.

While these numbers seem bleak, Participant Assistive Products is on a mission to increase participation for people with disabilities by making high-quality, affordable products, starting with a wheelchair for kids. They are a Benefit Corporation, meaning, they are a hybrid business, with a non-profit mission in a commercial structure that can scale up. To reach their bold vision of creating a solution on the scale of the need, they’ll partner with many organizations and governments around the world.

To this date, Participant’s founders have developed over 200 assistive products for the US, Japan, and lower income countries – many thousands of people served and some well-known products like the Quickie Iris and Kid Kart Xpress. Now, they are fully focused on affordable, durable products that disrupt the system and radically increase global access.

Currently, they are finalizing a chair for children. CEO and Co-Founder Keoke King noted that while wheelchairs for children already exist, their design boasts unique features that make the chair compatible to a variety of environments.

Now they are making prototypes for user feedback in the US, Colombia, India, and Kenya. The design is not yet finalized, however, King explained that it will surely be transportable, adaptable to more rugged-terrain, and overall serve as a more user-friendly alternative to those already on the market. In order to save on production costs and preserve their social mission, the company aims to design the best product for the lowest cost.

“We want to design products that are good enough for the USA. They may not come in 12 colors or be the lightest, but they will be affordable, delivered fast, and easy to keep in service,” Keoke said.

Currently, the company is promoting a large Indiegogo campaign with a goal of $10,000 raised by Feb 25. The money raised will go towards finalizing and testing prototypes for the wheelchair in Colombia. Once the design is refined following the trip to Colombia, Participant will test the chairs in the US, Kenya and India before taking them to the market officially. Despite this extensive testing the chairs will undergo, Keoke anticipates that the chairs will be approved and for sale later this year.

In order to run a successful crowdfunding campaign, though, they must first have a crowd. To support their mission, anyone can share the Indiegogo page or Participant’s website to their social media. While the company needs donations, they appreciate any form of support -- monetary or otherwise.

Keoke mentioned that quite a number of users have commented that even here in the USA service has room to improve. The high prices don’t seem to match up with the speed and quality of service that some users experience. Keoke sees Participant as a disrupter in this market and is hoping the community will get behind their efforts.

As for what is next, Keoke commented that they may try to design a sports chair or adult chair next. Sports chairs are relatively unavailable in lower income countries; whereas, adult chairs are available but often lack the features to brave rough terrain. Thus, there is a need for both. Nonetheless, Participant will continue to look to the future, aiming to bridge the 52 million person gap in the wheelchair market and to use their business for good.

On Feb. 16, the wheelchairs were tested in Guaymas, Mexico by pilot users.

On Feb. 16, the wheelchairs were tested in Guaymas, Mexico by pilot users.