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Since 2001, the humanitarian wing of the LDS Church, LDS Charities, has provided roughly 700,000 wheelchairs to disabled people in more than 130 countries. A BYU Capstone project is working to make those wheelchairs even more helpful to people in need.

A group of six engineering students has created a hand-trike assembly — complete with an additional wheel, drive and hand-powered element — that can be attached to wheelchairs created by LDS Charities. The hand trike, which lets people pedal with their hands instead of their feet, will enable users to travel greater distances with less effort.

“Having a wheelchair is a great start, but a lot of people still need to go 5 or 10 kilometers a day to get to the market or get to work,” said Cameron Johnson, a senior mechanical engineering major on the team. “That kind of distance is difficult, exhausting and time-consuming using a traditional wheelchair.”

LDS Charities asked the students to design and prototype a trike that is durable, maneuverable, multi-geared to handle varied terrain and built with parts that are easily replaceable. The hand trike also has to be adjustable to fit multiple wheelchairs, affordable and easy to use for a disabled person.

After finishing their initial prototype, students asked wheelchair users to test it out and give feedback. The user-feedback loop proved critical, providing two major improvements: 1) a lock on the wheel of the hand trike, making it more stable during assembly, and 2) a simpler attachment component that allows users to snap the unit right onto an existing chair.

The updated product is a one-piece hand trike unit that is stable, multi-geared and allows for continuous motion dependent upon on upper arm and chest muscles in a more ergonomic position. On top of that, the total cost is under $90.

“They hit all the points we were looking for,” said Eric Wunderlich, manager of the LDS Charities Wheelchair Initiative. “I’m pretty happy with the way they developed something that’s fairly easy for the users themselves. They don’t need someone to help them put it on and take it off.”

The hand trike has also received endorsements from wheelchair users like Weston Daley, one of the capstone team’s valuable testers who is paralyzed from the sternum down and doesn’t have the abdominal strength for complicated assembly.

“I would love to have one of these trikes,” Daley said. “This design is exactly what I’ve been looking for: Something that I could hook on to my daily wheelchair and not have to go buy a separate full trike that’s out-of-this-world expensive.”

The capstone student team, which includes engineering students Nicole Laws, Ryan Larson, Jon Barley, Travis Ward and Andrew Funk, are continuing to refine the hand trike and have already developed an agreement with BYU’s university accessibility center for additional testing by campus wheelchair users.

Wunderlich said the goal is for LDS Charities to eventually produce 5,000 hand trike units per year and he’s optimistic they could be shipping the products out by the end of 2018. He said there are 60 to 70 countries that have never seen a something like this.

“This is a product that will be a life-changer for a lot of people,” Wunderlich said. “There’s not a lot of other products like this out there. It’s really kind of unique.”

Added Daley: “This is going to be a useful device because people need to get around faster than they currently do in wheelchairs. I love that I can pop it off and set it aside when I get to a destination, but then when I need to head home from wherever I’m at, I can hook it up and get home in five minutes instead of 25 minutes. It’s just going to be super convenient in every situation and aspect to help make my life easier.”

The LDS Charities Wheelchair Initiative

According to LDS Charities, roughly 70 million people globally need a wheelchair and 45 million of those people don’t have access to one. Under the wheelchair initiative, which is part of the global humanitarian effort of the LDS Church, some 55,000 wheelchairs are provided to people in need annually. LDS Charities works with established programs in each country to ensure the wheelchairs get to the right people.

“In the LDS Charities wheelchair program, we’re really trying to empower people with disabilities to be mobile and to be able to do something more once they have that mobility, such as going to school or getting employment,” said Eric Wunderlich, manager of the wheelchair initiative for LDS Charities. “To be able to go a longer distance and to be able to use it in different environments, is really going to be beneficial for them.”