San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

U.S. Mission Donates Wheelchair Fleet

The implementation of Costa Rica’s Law for Equal Access for People with Disabilities (Law 7600) has resulted in the ever-so-slow installment of ramps and lifts around the country for those who use wheelchairs.

But build ramps for every public building and facility in the country, and it still would have made no difference for 15-month-old Nayeli Campos, whose progressive degenerative encephalopathy does not permit her to walk like most other one-year-old children. Her mother, Laura Marín, unable to afford a wheelchair, had to carry her everywhere.

Until last weekend, that is.

The Old Customs House in Barrio Escalante in eastern San José was the scene on Saturday of a donation of 1,000 wheelchairs by the Irvine, California-based Free Wheelchair Mission.

“This will help me a great deal,” Marín said, beaming as she helped strap Nayeli into her first wheelchair. “She was getting heavier and heavier for me to carry.”

This was the organization’s fourth trip to Costa Rica and brings the total of chairs donated here to more than 4,000, Michael Bayer, the mission’s medical director, told The Tico Times.

“Our target is the poor people who would not otherwise be able to afford a chair,” he explained.

A check this week with the Medical Equipment Department at Hospital CIMA in the western San José suburb of Escazú turned up prices starting at $250 for a new, but basic, wheelchair.

Chairs may be acquired through Costa Rica’s public Social Security System (Caja), but the wait can be long, according to Marianela Gambronero of the National Rehabilitation Council.

“I’ve seen the process take over a year,” Gambronero said.

The Municipality of San José’s Office of Social Protection and the Catholic Church’s Office of Pastoral Services process applications and determine need among those with motor disability or limitations of mobility.

Components of each chair, whose design is not patented, cost less than $45 to manufacture and ship to their destination countries, Bayer explained.

The seat is a white, padded plastic patio chair bolted to a steel frame, and 24-inch mountain bike wheels, all manufactured in China. Pieces for 550 chairs can be packed efficiently into a shipping container, with assembly completed onsite in the recipient country.

Yellow assembly tags, still attached to the backs of some of the sea of chairs waiting for their new users, bore instructions in Spanish, English, Chinese, Arabic, Vietnamese, Hindi and Bahasa Indonesia.

A financial donation from the Do It Foundation, the charitable arm of the Do It Center chain of hardware and construction stores – one of which, the Papagayo Do It Center, is located in the northwestern province of Guanacaste – has helped bring chairs to Costa Rica. The foundation will fund a December shipment of another 1,600 chairs here.

Costa Rica is one of 57 countries to receive the mission’s donations, which now tally 150,000 wheelchairs worldwide. Past trips have taken the project to Guanacaste and Puntarenas, a central Pacific port city, but this was the first trip to San José.

Belts are included for children who receive chairs, another of whom was Josúa Rueda, 10, who eagerly darted around in his new chair.

“I can get around so easily,” he proclaimed. Rueda, unable to walk because of spina bifida, had an old dilapidated chair in the past.

“This is much better,” he called out as he zoomed away.

To find out more about the project, visit For more information on applications here in Costa Rica, call 232-6211.


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