Groundbreaking Wheelchair Test Track to Help Millions in Need of Mobility in Developing World

Free Wheelchair Mission, SD Mines Engineering Students and South Dakota-based RPM & Associates produce first-of-its-kind test track that improves efficiency of wheelchair testing, design and production.

Irvine, CA, April 05, 2018 --( Today, Free Wheelchair Mission (FWM), a world leader in mobility solutions for people with disabilities in developing countries, announced the completion of its groundbreaking wheelchair test track. Newly installed and operating at the Irvine headquarters, the test track will provide valuable data that will help improve the design and life-span of FWM’s wheelchairs. The project was built in partnership with engineering students at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology (SD Mines) and Rapid City, South Dakota-based RPM and Associates, Inc. (RPM).

“We are incredibly grateful for the partnership with SD Mines and RPM to produce this test track,” said Don Schoendorfer, founder and president, FWM. “We set out with a simple mission to help as many people in need as we could, and through tremendous support and partnerships like this one, we have helped over one million people gain a life of independence and hope. This test track is an incredible asset to help even more people by being able to produce better designed, longer-lasting wheelchairs for developing nations in a fraction of the time.”

FWM has distributed more than one million wheelchairs at no cost to people with disabilities in 93 countries since 2001. Until now, the organization evaluated wheelchair designs by field-testing samples in a developing country – an expensive process that took a year or longer to complete and often produced ambiguous data. Using durable, steel frames and mountain bike tires the chairs are designed to withstand the rugged terrain of third world countries. Previous studies show that with normal use and maintenance, the chairs typically last three or more years.

The test track enables wheelchairs to be assessed more conveniently in our office in Irvine, CA, and compresses three to five years of field testing into a few months - replacing the laborious and time-consuming process of testing wheelchairs in the field.

Test wheelchairs are fitted with instrumentation to measure acceleration and strain. These test wheelchairs are kept stationary while positioned on a conveyor belt moving at varying speeds. Obstacles attached to the belt simulate the same types of obstacles wheelchair users encounter in their home countries. Adjustable manikins will sit on each of the wheelchairs to replicate varied sizes and needs of users. Data from the instrumentation will show forces and stresses in real time on the chair and its user. This will permit comparison of design options in very controlled and reproducible test conditions which will result in continued improvements in design, comfort and longevity of the wheelchairs. It will also allow comparison testing and comparisons of wheelchairs offered by peer organizations around the world.

“The RPM Companies are honored and privileged to be a small part of the FWM team. RPM & Associates and its sister companies, RPM Solutions and RPM Innovations, combined their many years of experience in engineering and manufacturing to provide this first of its kind test track. It is very gratifying to know that our expertise is being utilized by FWM to provide more reliable and durable wheelchairs to those in need around the globe,” said Robert P. Mudge, President, RPM & Associates, Inc.

More than 70 million people worldwide are in dire need of a wheelchair, yet do not have the resources to obtain one. That need will continue to grow due to aging, natural disasters, political unrest and traffic accidents. FWM just celebrated distributing its one millionth wheelchair and has no plans to slow down. The goal is to deliver its next million wheelchairs by 2025, half the time it took to give out the first million.

Additionally, as a member of the Board of Directors of the International Society of Wheelchair Providers (ISWP), Schoendorfer is offering the test track services to other members of ISWP who also are producing wheelchairs for the developing world.

“By all of us working together, we can bring the gift of mobility to the millions more in need,” Schoendorfer said.

About Free Wheelchair Mission:
Free Wheelchair Mission (FWM) is a humanitarian, faith-based, nonprofit organization that provides wheelchairs at no cost to people with disabilities living in developing nations. In collaboration with a network of like-minded partners, Free Wheelchair Mission has provided more than one million wheelchairs to those living with a disability in 93 developing nations since 2001, providing dignity, independence, and hope through the gift of mobility. Learn more at

About South Dakota School of Mines & Technology:
Founded in 1885, the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology is a science and engineering research university located in Rapid City, S.D., offering bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. The university enrolls 2,778 students with a student-to-faculty ratio of 15:1. The SD School of Mines placement rate for graduates is 96 percent, with an average starting salary of $63,000. Find us online at

About RPM & Associates, Inc.:
RPM & Associates, Inc. is a manufacturing firm founded in 1982 by Rob Mudge, Deb Mudge and Rob's parents, Jim and Phyllis Mudge. RPM & Associates, Inc. is a South Dakota corporation located in Rapid City, serving coal-fired power plants, mining operations, cement plants, and chemical processing plants. RPM & Associates is focused on solving wear problems using innovative ideas, automatic welding systems, creative machining, and proper material selection. Learn more at
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