Developing World Mobility

Working to identify needs and develop, and disseminate mobility technology in the developing world.

A student tests a handcycle under review in Indonesia, IAP, 2016.

Students at work on a wheelchair in the D-Lab workshop.

A deep sand wheelchair developed at IDDS Botswana, 2016.


The World Health Organization estimates that more than seventy million people worldwide—roughly one percent of the human population—need wheelchairs, and notes that in developing countries only a small percentage of people can actually access them. Without wheelchairs, people with mobility impairments may be functionally imprisoned at home, and isolated from their communities. From an economic perspective, a person inhibited from working due to a mobility impairment is unable to productively contribute to the community and the economy. 

In the developing world, difficult physical environments (lack of paved roads or paths, rough natural terrain, lack of private or public buildings built to accommodate wheelchairs) and financial constraints (lack of disposable income and financing options) create additional challenges for wheelchair and other mobility technology design.


D-Lab has been addressing the need for affordable high-performance mobility technology designed for developing world conditions for almost ten years. D-Lab is best known for its role in supporting the development of the GRIT Leveraged Freedom Chair and for the MIT course, D-Lab: Mobility - Wheelchair Design in Developing Countries

Matt McCambridge came to D-Lab in 2013 to build on D-Lab’s demonstrated success and to further develop and stabilize D-Lab’s capacity to support leaders in global mobility provision. Through hands-on, real-world challenges from the designers, manufacturers, and users of wheelchairs and other assistive devices, Matt guides MIT D-Lab students to tackle design and engineering challenges from field partners and practitioners. These partners and practitioners value access to MIT student energy, creativity, their capacity to draw on sophisticated technical resources, and their capacity to perform rigorous, credible evaluation. Matt continues to refine course infrastructure and research tools, and develop and solidify long-term partnerships. 

With so many mobility technologies on the market—and the stakes so high in the developing world for ensuring quality and affordability—evaluation is critical for the field. Under the auspices of the MIT-based, D-Lab-affiliated Comprehensive Initiative for Technology Evaluation, Matt is this year leading an evaluation of a diverse group of wheelchairs intended for use by adults in the developing world and collecting data (both through survey tools and by innovative sensors affixed to wheelchairs) on how various wheelchairs are used by their riders and families. 


Matt McCambridge is a graduate of Stanford’s Product Design program and spent 17 years working as a designer of wheelchairs and similar devices. In addition to working in the design, manufacture, and distribution of low-cost wheelchairs for the developing world, principally for nonprofits Whirlwind Wheelchair and Handicap International, Matt spent seven years in the private sector and had the opportunity to work on the IBOT, a self-balancing, stair-climbing powered mobility device soon to be re-launched by engineer and entrepreneur Dean Kamen.