The lack of a reliable transportation system for persons with disabilities often leaves people using wheelchairs helpless and unproductive. Accomplishing some of the most basic necessities like visiting the doctor, running errands, or simply attending school or going to work are nearly impossible.
In 2003, the Circle of Friends Foundation Inc (COFFI) attempted to address this problem with the Wheelmobile. The special vehicle eliminates the dangerous and often embarrassing process of carrying a person in and out of a wheelchair, to transfer him to and from a vehicle. The Wheelmobile is a van with a rear section custom-fabricated to a height of approximately 1.5 meters, allowing access to even very tall persons sitting on wheelchairs. The entry is over a non-slip lightweight aluminum ramp imported from Germany, which is capable of supporting weight of up to 450 kilograms. The wheelchair is just easily rolled in.
Once inside the fully airconditioned space, a special locking system tightly secures the wheelchair to rails installed on the floor ensuring the safety of the passenger. Two extra doors are found on both sides of the van for security as well as easy entry and exit. Windows are extra large, allowing a view of the road for both the shortest and tallest persons on board. Seats inside the van are also available for companions such as guardians or caregivers. All in all, the van can hold six people - two in the front cab, two in wheelchairs and two on the rear bench. The drivers behind the wheel are trained in both road and personal courtesy. They obey traffic rules and know how to assist their passengers with their special needs.
With Mrs. Margaretha Gloor and Mr. Dieter Brueckner at the helm, COFFI aims to help people in wheelchairs realize the dignity and equality they deserve. The idea is to grow the fleet of Wheelmobiles and reach out to a larger market, tourists included. Through a partner agency, "Accessible Tours Asia", COFFI believes they can help attract local and international tourism for people using wheelchairs, which is an untapped market that promises to create thousands of new job opportunities. But funds have yet to be generated to finance additional Wheelmobiles.
To date, only four units are available for rent. The regular donations from transporting disabled people in wheelchairs do not compensate the subsidized utilization of the Wheelmobiles. So the income is supplemented by other fundraising means. COFFI is engaged in a variety of handicrafts (bags, coasters, placemats, wine holders, painted jeepneys, etc) very much sought after by people going abroad, tourists, and corporations looking for giveaways. All these products are manufactured by persons with disabilities and help generate a steady cash flow for COFFI's endeavors.
Occasionally, events are held to raise awareness and income. In the past, concerts, exhibitions and golf tournaments have helped sustain the financial requirements of COFFI's project. This coming December 1, COFFI is holding a dance event at the Manila Polo Club. Dubbed as "Santa Goes Latin Dancing", the program will feature the Latin tunes of Mai Castro and her band. Artworks of various artists will also be on sale. Tickets are priced at P3,250 inclusive of dinner and drinks.
For more information about the party and to avail of the services of Wheelmobile, call +63 2 8112237 or +639178143041 / +639178109504 / +639175225748. Wheelmobile bookings can be arranged on an hourly, daily or even weekly basis. Rates start at Php450 for the first hour. The vans may be used to travel within Metro Manila or to any point in Luzon.