Oregon-based Ryan & Lana Weimer have five children, three of whom have Muscular Dystrophy and require the use of wheelchairs. So several years ago Ryan began taking online courses at the Stan Winston School of Character Arts, in order to learn the modelmaking skills necessary to create costumes large enough to incorporate wheelchairs.
So successful were Ryan and Lana's subsequent costume designs that they formed Magic Wheelchair, a nonprofit dedicated to producing wheelchair-friendly costumes for families across the country. "Our vision is to put a smile on the face of every child in a wheelchair," they write, "by transforming their wheelchairs into awesomeness."
They face a seemingly impossible task: While they estimate there are "more than 121,000 children under the age of 15 confined to wheelchairs," this year the organization could produce just eight costumes. That's because each takes roughly 120 man-hours (not to mention $2,000 to $4,000 in materials) to craft. Here's Ryan walking you through one of the builds, giving you a sense of what goes into it:
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I'm struck by how much this resembles ID school studio time. Which makes me wonder if industrial design students and departments couldn't do something to help Magic Wheelchair expand their capabilities. While materials costs are fixed, perhaps the processes could be improved? Fabricating bespoke items like these costumes requires the same shop-based problem-solving skills as your standard Prototypes class. Could the articulating mechanism for those wings be standardized and speedily produced, for instance? And/or could the sheer manpower of ID students already learning to build things be brought to bear?
If you're a design educator or student, consider bringing Magic Wheelchair to the attention of your program. If every ID school's Modelmaking class was producing costumes and/or devising more efficient fabrication solutions, perhaps the gap between eight and 121,000 would start to close.