Rowan sociologist spearheads 'Wheelchairs for Haiti' project

Jay Chaskes is spearheading an effort to send durable, safe wheelchairs to adults and children injured by the Haitian earthquake.
Rowan University sociologist Jay Chaskes knows what it's like to be able-bodied one minute and in a wheelchair the next.

That's why Chaskes is spearheading an effort to send durable, safe wheelchairs to adults and children injured by the Haitian earthquake.

As part of Rowan Relief, a University-wide disaster relief effort, Chaskes is working with Whirlwind Wheelchair International (, a San Francisco-based company, to raise funds to send wheelchairs to Haiti.

The 40-pound wheelchairs, which cost just $220, are made especially to handle Haiti's rough terrain. The chairs, which are made in developing countries of the world, such as Mexico, Vietnam, South Africa and China, can be easily repaired using simple supplies, making them a viable option for Haitians. Available in adult and pediatric sizes, the chairs can be adjusted to fit different body types, according to Chaskes.

The 41-year Rowan professor would like to raise funds to purchase 250 wheelchairs. A local businessman has already pledged to cover the shipping costs, according to Chaskes.

"The chairs are very simple, but strong," says Chaskes, who began using a wheelchair six years ago after developing critical illness axonal polyneuropathy as a result of complications from a staph infection.

"One of the beautiful things about the chair parts is that they can be fixed anywhere. The parts, such as standard ball bearings, can be found anywhere," says Chaskes.

Checks to support the effort can be made out to the Rowan University Foundation and sent to 201 Mullica Hill Road, Glassboro, N.J. 08028. Checks should include "Wheelchairs for Haiti" in the subject line.

The "Wheelchairs for Haiti" project is just one aspect of Rowan Relief, a movement organized by Rowan's Student Government Association (SGA). The SGA expects to begin selling "Rowan Relief" wristbands soon, with all proceeds going to the Red Cross.

Additionally, a benefit concert, a dance-a-thon and a telethon on the Rowan Television Network are all being considered for later in the semester.

Chaskes, who is teaching an Honors course titled "Disability as a Lived Experience" this semester, had the idea for "Wheelchairs for Haiti" after listening to a radio broadcast about the number of earthquake victims who have suffered spinal cord injuries and amputations.

His initial thought was to collect used wheelchairs to donate, but a quick Internet search showed that wheelchairs specially designed for unpaved roads and rugged terrain would work best in Haiti.

"Standard wheelchairs made in the United States are not suitable for developing nations such as Haiti, which has unpaved and rutted roads, few sidewalks, or ramps and curb cuts. The Whirlwind Rough Rider wheelchairs are perfect for the needs of Haitians," says Chaskes.