Mexico and U.S. Team Up To Make Low-Cost Wheelchairs

Political tension between the United States and Mexico is making headlines with talk of disrupting longstanding trade deals and constructing a border wall.

And then there’s the story of Antonio Garcia.

A mechanic from southern Sonora, he had been limping around on crutches for three years. His right leg was amputated below the knee after a motorcycle accident and buying a prosthetic leg was beyond his financial reach.

But he got the prosthesis just this January from a nonprofit that’s a collaboration between Mexico and the U.S. It’s called ARSOBO and it’s working to transform the lives of low-income Mexicans with disabilities. The organization, whose name is an acronym that stands for Arizona/Sonora border, provides affordable prosthetics, specialized wheelchairs and hearing aids.

“It’s changing people’s lives,” said Duke Duncan, an 84-year-old American pediatrician who grew impatient with retirement after just three days. He co-founded ARSOBO seven years ago.

“It’s really an emotional experience to see someone who’s been sitting in a chair for 10 years get up and … begin to take a few steps and they go out to the waiting room where … the crowd breaks into tears and claps,” Duncan said.

ARSOBO provides disabled people who were once isolated, depressed or begging on the streets the possibility of getting a job or going to school. Their signature product is an all-terrain wheelchair, originally developed by a nonprofit in California, that can navigate uneven sidewalks and rough roads.

Making these wheelchairs has become something of a fine art for 47-year-old Gabriel Zepeda. He’s been in a wheelchair himself since age 18 when a drunk driver smashed into his truck and left him paralyzed from the chest down. Zepeda custom makes each chair to suit the size and needs of its user.

“The concept behind the design is to use locally available materials like steel tubing and mountain bike wheels,” Zepeda said. “That way the chair can easily be repaired in Mexico, including at a neighborhood bike shop.”

Read more at NPR.