Web Visibility for Wheelchair Workshops

After taking a service learning class, Wheelchair Design for Developing Countries - SP.784, during the 2007 spring semester, Shirley Fung (G, Course 6) became interested in the challenges faced by disabled individuals in East Africa. "I have always wanted to get involved with international development," says Shirley, "and took this class as an opportunity to start my own project."

Struck by the demand for wheelchairs, Shirley concluded what wheelchair workshops most needed was visibility. Having several years of web development experience, Shirley worked on a marketing project for the class and developed brochures for local wheelchair workshops. "I found out what these workshops really need is a simple web site, so that they can be known around the world, and can be easily looked up on the Internet."

For many workshops, however, the cost of hiring a web master and paying for hosting is a limiting factor. Most workshops simply cannot afford to maintain even a simple web site. In response to these costs, Shirley developed a guide entitled How to Make a Web Site at an Internet Café. The guide includes the fundamentals of web design, how to create a simple web site using free services on the Web and a tutorial on how to start a blog. These three things can all be accomplished at an internet café, greatly reducing the costs of running a web site.

In July of 2007, with a Public Service Fellowship, Shirley traveled to Moshi, Tanzania, where she worked with a local wheelchair workshop at the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical College (KCMC), to continue her work promoting the visibility of local workshops. Over the course of four weeks Shirley worked with the founder Abdullah Munish, to develop a business plan and presentation for raising awareness internationally. Within the community, Shirley continued to distribute How to Make a Web Site at an Internet Café as well as a document detailing the basics of marketing and how it can be applied to a wheelchair workshop, adapted from a Harvard Business School case study.

In order to further the cause of disabled individuals in East Africa, Shirley surveyed many members of the Kilimanjaro Association of the Spinally Injured (KASI), and the resulting data was compiled into a formal report.

Heartened by the success of her guide, Shirley plans to continue her web development work with local wheelchair workshops. "At this point, this project has helped me lay down the ground work for a nonprofit organization. I would like to start an online community where they can fundraise for individual wheelchair users and also share technology and voices about their community."

Read more about students and their public service projects...