Free Wheelchair Mission (FWM) is a charity that helps disadvantaged disable people move independently in a wheelchair. The charity participates in the entire process, from the design phase and down to delivery to the recipients. So far, FWM has helped over 1 million people improve their quality of life. For their annual fundraiser on July 25, the charity will use a VR experience to show donors how important their contribution is.
See the World Through the Eyes of Wheelchair Recipients
For most people, walking freely and going wherever they want is a given. However, for a disabled and poor person, it is an unattainable dream. For this reason, FWM wants to raise awareness among attendees of their fundraising event of the importance of their donation.
To this end, they created a VR experience for Oculus documenting the delivery of three wheelchairs in Guatemala.
“We’ve provided wheelchairs all around the world in 93 developing countries. But most of our donations come from people within the US. So, it’s difficult to bridge that gap to allow our donors to truly experience what it feels like to provide someone with a wheelchair. We can obviously bring back stories, some of them can go on vision trips that we host abroad. But that’s limited in terms of the sheer number of donors that we have,” explained Jennifer Walker, Director of Marketing for Free Wheelchair Mission. “So, with this immersive technology, we thought, ‘Why don’t we see if it’s possible to, essentially, bring the field back home?’”
Some donors have already watched the immersive video. One of them, David Hummelberg, Executive VP of the Capital Group, described the experience as powerful.
“The immersive experience on the VR glasses is from the perspective of the wheelchair recipient. You’re moving on a dirt road in a small Guatemalan village leading to a tiny home with children all around you. It’s very moving and I can’t imagine a better way of communicating this woman’s plight and how important this humanitarian mission is,” he told ARPost.
Note: this video was designed for viewing on Oculus VR glasses.
The First Attempt at Creating a VR Experience for Charity Purposes
For Free Wheelchair Mission, creating the 360 video was a special challenge.
“Chris and his team from Market Street came with us to Guatemala last December to shoot. It was significantly different in the sense that his camera had six different lenses, so he can’t hide behind it.You’re not allowed to be there; you essentially have to watch what is being filmed remotely. He jerry-rigged the camera on a pole, but the shadow of that pole shows in the shot, so you have to stitch that out later. This was actually his first time doing VR for a nonprofit client,” explained Walker.
However, the results of the finished VR experience encourage FWM to continue in this direction. Walker believes that the charity should create immersive videos from all over the world. “We also want to tell more stories of how peoples’ lives are changed forever through the gift of mobility in places such as Vietnam and Africa,” she said.
A Commitment to Helping the Most Vulnerable People
Free Wheelchair Mission exists thanks to Don Schoendorfer, a biomechanical engineer. His inspiration to start this charity came from seeing a woman crawling across a busy street in a developing country.
Now, with the help of engineering students at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, FHM designs, builds and tests wheelchairs on a test track. Each wheelchair is made of long-lasting steel frames and high endurance mountain bike tires. Thus, the recipients can use them safely for a long time, even on difficult roads.
Looking to the Future
Since 2001, FWM has delivered wheelchairs in 93 countries. After the upcoming fundraising event, the charity plans to make further use of the VR experience. According to Walker:
“We plan to use this video after the gala as well, to take it with us and share with development officers across the country and our distribution partners. We do a lot of events outside California, so we’ll bring the goggles everywhere we go. People absolutely love it! They’ve never experienced anything like that because they truly felt like they were there in Guatemala.”
The FWM annual fundraising is taking place today at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, CA. The special guest speaker of the event will be Victoria Arlen, winner of the gold medal in the Paralympics Games.