How can we optimise wheelchair use for people living in rural off-road communities in East Africa?


The World Health Organisation states that over 75 million people are in need of an appropriate wheelchair, 85‑95% of whom do not have access to one. This is largely due to the majority of the individuals in need of wheelchairs living in low-resource settings without access to appropriate and affordable mobility interventions. Without the independence of mobility, people in low resource settings can find themselves marginalised and susceptible to falling into a disability-poverty cycle which can lead to them being unable to financially or physically support themselves or their family. The SafariSeat project aimed to identify and develop a solution to optimise wheelchair use for people living in rural off-road communities in East Africa.

A local Kenyan lady manoeuvres her Safariseat wheelchair around a line of coconut shells. She is wearing a bright yellow top and a traditional orange patterned skirt with bare feet. The ground is a rich orange colour with the sandy soil and there are two palm trees in the background next to her mud hut, with a couple of skinny cows standing in the shade.
Usability testing with locals
A large batch of wheelchair frames sit on the workshop floor waiting to be assembled. In front of them lay all the wheels and components which will be used to turn these into SafariSeat wheelchairs.
Wheelchair components awaiting assembly
Video tour of the new SafariSeat workshop in Kenya

Three key design principles were distilled from research and applied throughout the design process to guide and justify design decisions. The identified design principles included:

1 – Localised Design (Work with local materials, tools, communities and networks wherever possible).
2 – Prioritise Usability (Optimise reliability, durability, ease of manufacture and maintenance).
3 – Ruthless Affordability (Minimise costs and production time without compromising safety).

Video showing SafariSeat being tested over rough terrain
A local Kenyan lady with a bright purple turban and teal patterned dress drives her Safariseat at speed down a dusty track, leaving a cloud of golden dust in the air behind her.
Local leaving their home in a SafariSeat
Seven people from the safariseat wheelchair team sat in the kenyan workshop smiling
The SafariSeat Kenya team

SafariSeat is an off-road wheelchair with a small footprint which allows it to be used indoors as well as over the roughest rocky terrain. It is low-cost and manufactured locally in Kenya with basic tools and it is easy to repair locally using bicycle parts. The suspension system is a simple, durable mechanism which avoids the use of springs, allowing each wheel to lift independently to prevent tipping. SafariSeat uses puncture-proof tyres for durability over rough terrain. The hand pedals are geared for weaker users to move over rough ground with minimum effort; they allow constant transmission of power compared to levers or push rims, which also helps going uphill. SafariSeat also has tie-down racks on either side for transporting baggage or water containers.


Paper – Designing an All-terrain Wheelchair; A Case Study of Design for Social Impact in Less Resourced Settings.

SafariSeat Website –

For further information about this project, please contact Cara Shaw