International Activities

Flying wheelchair project in Niigata University of Health and Welfare


The flying wheelchair project was started in the Tochigi Technical Senior High School in 1990 and has since spread around to other technical high schools. The aim of the project is to provide upgraded wheelchairs to Asian countries.

The Nihon Shakaifukushi Kohsaikai drew the attention of a number of Japanese schools and technical senior high schools to the desperate needs of the regions of Sri Lanka stricken by the recent Indian Ocean tsunami centered in Sumatra in 2004. As a result the students of the Omori Gakuen High School and the Niihama Technical Senior High School went to Sri Lanka and returned with strong feelings of the need for on-going support and a realization of the need to replace inner-tube tires with the tires of tubeless type that are more suitable to the circumstances of 2005.

Dr. Hisaichi Ohnabe (Visiting Professor of the University of Pittsburgh at that time, now Emeritus Professor of Niigata University of Health and Welfare, Visiting Professor of the University of Pittsburgh) introduced its activities in the "Current Trends in Rehabilitation Engineering in Japan" during the 2005 international session of RESNA (Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America). International recognition of the voluntary activity program is carried in an English language textbook for high school students, published in 2007. The book, "Flying Wheelchair" for elementary and middle school students was also published in 2008.

This information was sent to WHO via the University of Pittsburgh. Furthermore it is included in the education of assistive products in universities.

Fig. 1 System of Flying Wheelchair Project

Figure 1 represents the system of the "Flying Wheelchair" activities, which are considered as a relay from heart to heart.

The present article describes a history of this project in the Niigata University of Health and Welfare and more details about activities related to us.


Fig.2 Wheelchair repaired by NUHW and given to the boy at Sri Lanka
A woman dressed in the back is one of our students

Fig. 3 Volunteers in Sri Lanka with students of technical senior high schools and universities from Japan and the Republic of Korea

Though the above background information was available on this project, Dr. Hideaki Takahashi, President Emeritus, Niigata University of Health and Welfare, initiated and pushed and encouraged us to be involved in this project. Our roles in this project are [1] to repair and maintain used wheelchairs and to change tubeless tires to solid ones and then send them to the people who need wheelchairs in South-east Asian counties by hand and/ or by ship, [2] to introduce these activities to the areas of the world that has technical senior high schools, universities and other related organizations, (information dispatch from Japan to the world), and [3] to contribute to better Quality of Life in the world as the most rapidly aging country in the world.

We (one student and two faculty members) commenced our participation in Sri Lanka in 2006. The technical senior high school and university students, who repaired used wheelchairs during the international voluntary activities of the flying wheelchair, to which Korean high school and university students also participated, visited Sri Lanka between 23 to 28 of December in 2006 (Figs.2, 3).

Furthermore, these activities were authorized in a government advocacy entitled "Japan and the Republic of Korea future joint project". We then contributed to the "Flying Wheelchair International and Interactive Repair Technique Conference" in conjunction with the 23rd Japanese Conference on the Advancement of Assistive and Rehabilitation Technology (23rd JCAART 2008) (Fig.4). We also participated in a conference held in Indonesia (two faculties) in 2008 and in Thailand (two students and one faculty) in 2009 (Fig.5, 6). Our experience was shared in the classroom to understand more about assistive products through wheelchairs (Fig.7).

We have helped dispatch information from Japan to the world in the following conferences;
[1] The 22nd, 23rd Japanese Conferences on the Advancement of Assistive and Rehabilitation Technology (22nd, 23rd JCAART 2008)
[2] The 1st , 2nd, 3rd Conferences on Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of Korea
[3] International Concentration Meeting at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) 2009 Conference

Fig. 4 Wheelchair repair volunteer activities at "Flying Wheelchair International and Interactive Repair Technique Conference in Niigata 2008"

Fig.5 With our students with two blushed up wheelchairs to bring by the fright to Thailand which we say "Flying Wheelchair"
One of them belongs to international volunteers' club in NUHW and has contributed to "Flying Wheelchair International and Interactive Repair Technique Conference in Niigata 2008"

Fig. 6 Students and volunteers from Japan, the Republic of Korea, Taiwan and Thailand with Buddhist priest of Mongkongchaiprasit Temple (so called wheelchair temple) in Thailand

Fig. 7 Students repaired and blushed up wheelchairs at the class.
One of them is a foreign student from Taiwan