Using new technologies for even bolder wheelchair design and provision in developing countries

From the very start of Motivation, our goal has been to ensure that our products meet the different needs of disabled people in developing countries.

But what if we could move from adjustable designs that are mass produced, to a new model of wheelchair design and provision?

Introducing Motivation InnovATe

We are all different shapes and sizes. We live, work, study and play in different environments. One size doesn’t fit all.

In recent years, charities like Motivation have relied on standard size wheelchairs that are shipped around the world.

Motivation InnovATe is developing a new way to locally produce made-to-measure wheelchairs that are specifically assessed, prescribed and designed to suit individual users.

Starting with the user

Our new system puts the user and clinician at the heart of the process from the first clinical assessment. An in-depth discussion between the user and the clinician allows them to establish the lifestyle, support and clinical needs that will inform design.


From here, they move to our seating simulator that determines the size of the wheelchair. A digital measurement device is used to develop the dimensions of a custom backrest. All these specific body measurements are put into our app that connects to a computer-aided design (CAD) programme, which generates a custom wheelchair design.

Together the clinician and user can decide on different product choices within the programme – from wheel size and camber angle, to rear axle position and seat height. Wheelchair users can even choose the colour of their wheelchair! The design adjusts according to these decisions.

It sounds so simple, but being able to make choices about your own wheelchair is empowering and enables you to feel confident and proud of your product.

Breaking the mould

Our team started with one of Motivation’s most iconic wheelchair designs: the Rough Terrain. By using 3D printing, we can adapt this 3-wheel model for different shapes and sizes.

To create the wheelchair frame from the custom design, we make 3D printed joints that are joined by metal tubing. The 3D printing allows us to vary the shapes and angles of the joints. It also allows us to accommodate different sizes of tubing that match materials sourced locally.

We also use 3D printing to create a folding backrest that fits the exact contours of the user. Our goal is to mimic the same level of support that’s provided by a trained clinician during assessment. This is crucial for creating the ideal supportive seating position, which is vital for user support, comfort and health.

This simplicity of the app and the design programme allows anyone with basic training to produce completely made-to-measure products – even without any previous technical experience.

Making a start in Kenya

Our first trial took place during Summer 2019. Motivation joined up with a local partner in Kenya and wheelchair users to test out every part of the Motivation InnovATe design and delivery system.

With a team of local technicians and clinicians at Bethany Kids, we created a workshop space filled with components sourced from the surrounding area.

Our clinical and design team trained the partner team in the assessment and design stages, then supervised production of the first few wheelchairs. This training phase was followed by a phase of independent production, so the Bethany Kids staff could fully test the process. They produced six made to measure products for local wheelchair users.

Our first 3D printed wheelchairs

We wanted to understand how closely the wheelchairs fitted their users and to test the clinically accuracy of the automatic generation design.

The local team (including technicians and clinicians) gave training on safety features as well as how to fold the wheelchair and remove the wheels. Then they supervised our eight as they carried out a skills test indoors and over different terrains and obstacles.

Throughout the whole assessment, fitting and product testing process we asked for their feedback on performance, functionality, comfort and appearance.

We’re so pleased with how they rated their experience. This first trial was a great success and proved that the Motivation InnovATe has incredible promise for the future.

Going local…

Motivation InnovATe aims to put technology, investment and skills back into the hands of local manufacturers and clinicians.

Why is this important? Supply of wheelchairs to developing countries is highly dependent on donors and imports, which means it can be intermittent and unreliable. Our system focuses on locally sourcing as many tools and parts as possible, whether that’s 3D printers, steel tubes or nuts and bolts.

...But working for global change

We want Motivation InnovATe to transform the global provision of wheelchairs.

So what are the next steps?

We’re adjusting the Motivation InnovATe concept in response to user feedback from the trial. That means finding a way to adjust the wheelchair design itself, including the possibility of a 4-wheel model. And we’re exploring ways to scale up so we can test the system far and wide.

Get in touch with Samantha Braithwaite to find out more.

The first trial of Motivation InnovATe was part-funded with UK aid from the UK government through the AT2030 programme.
Motivation InnovATe is part of AT2030, a programme funded by UK Aid and led by the Global Disability Innovation Hub. AT2030 will test ‘what works’ to improve access to AT and will invest £20m to support solutions to scale. With a focus on innovative products, new service models, and global capacity support, the programme will reach 9 million people directly and 6 million more indirectly to enable a lifetime of potential through life-changing assistive technology. For more information visit: