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Improving Lives of Wheelchair Users Focus of Federally Funded Pitt Project to Create Global Network

PITTSBURGH, Dec. 18, 2014 – Of the nearly 70 million people worldwide who require wheelchairs for mobility and function, most lack access to appropriate wheelchairs, services and providers. Now, a handful of University of Pittsburgh scientists are working with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) under a two-year, $2.3 million sub-award to develop the new International Society of Wheelchair Professionals, a global network to ensure a level of standardization, certification and oversight, to teach and professionalize wheelchair services, and build affiliations to put better equipment in the right hands.

Starting in January, the International Society of Wheelchair Professionals will be launched and administered by faculty members from the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology in the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. Assistant professor Jon Pearlman, Ph.D., associate director of engineering at the Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL), and Rory Cooper, Ph.D., HERL founding director and Distinguished Professor of Rehabilitation Science and Technology, will serve as director and co-director, respectively.

The organizers intend to create five areas critical to the international network, as outlined in the funding: expand and professionalize providers; collect and share data; promote coordination and standardization; improve and facilitate the supply of wheelchairs; and advocate for appropriate wheelchair services worldwide.

“For at least the last 30 years, there has been a need for an international society to help improve the quality of wheelchairs,  service delivery, standardization, communication, and coordination as well," Dr. Cooper said, “and to link consumers, designers, manufacturers, rehabilitation professionals and wheelchair users so that we can all communicate. A rising tide raises all boats, so let’s raise the level for everybody in the world.”

Added Dr. Pearlman: “USAID is part of the federal Department of State, and it tries to support development efforts worldwide. In this case, it’s a grant to the University of Pittsburgh, but to build a network and an ability to professionalize services around the world to contribute to this common goal – which is to improve the lives of wheelchair users.”

Since 2002, USAID has granted more than $45 million to improve wheelchairs and wheelchair services worldwide. This sub-award – Agreement No. APC-GM-0068 -- was presented by Advancing Partners & Communities, a five-year cooperative agreement funded through USAID under Agreement No. AIDOAA-A-12-00047, beginning Oct. 1, 2012.

About U.S. Agency for International Development

USAID’s five key investment areas in the wheelchair sector:  1. Resource material development:  Supports the World Health Organization (WHO) for wheelchair guidelines and training packages.  2. Research: Funds research on impact of wheelchair provision, product development, and other pertinent topics.  3. Programs:  Assists direct wheelchair provision, sports, recreation and advocacy for accessibility. 4. Procurement:  Sponsors efforts to address supply chain issues.  5. Professionalization:  Promotes wheelchair sector strengthening through training, testing, and furthering coordination and standards.”  


This press release was produced by the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences, agreement number APC-GM-0068, through Advancing Partners & Communities (APC), a five-year cooperative agreement funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development under Agreement No. AID-OAA-A-12-00047, beginning October 1, 2012 ​​​

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