Since he was a student at the Aarhus School of Architecture, Simon Skafdrup has had an interest in design for those with special needs. “When people say a product has made their daily lives happier, it makes my own job that much more enjoyable,” he says. During his last year at school, representatives from Danish industrial-design company R82 visited the university to see student projects and were impressed by their sophistication—so much so that they asked Skafdrup and his firm, 3Part, to design a child’s wheelchair a few years later.
The chair was developed through a large collaborative effort over two and a half years. “When you consider every kind of involvement, from the development team to the salespeople to the children, there were more than forty people creating the chair,” Skafdrup says. Asked what the most defining aspect of the process was, he explains, “One of the first things we all did was interview children—both disabled and not—and their families. We needed to find out what goes on in the head of an eight-year-old. What do their environments look like? What appeals to them? Research is an important ingredient no matter what you are designing.” Here Skafdrup offers a closer look at the Cheetah, available in the United States through Snug Seat (www.snugseat.com).
The chair has the ability to expand in any direction; the frame extends both horizontally and vertically. Kids grow fast, and if they were to require a new wheelchair each year it would be very expensive, so there was great demand for adjustability.
Some children are limited in their mobility, whereas others can do most things for themselves. The Cheetah includes extras for customizing the chair, such as armrests, a pommel to hold the legs steady, and this back extension. The challenge was to incorporate them all while keeping the look simple.
The name Cheetah relates to the power and speed expressed in this chair’s form; R82 names a lot of products after animals, based on the different energies of each one.
The detachable tray for eating or playing on is made of Plexiglas, which won’t break and still looks discreet. I’m very proud of the way we integrated this accessory because it was hard to make it look good.
The tubular wheel frame is made from aluminum; the rest of the chair is made from fiber-enhanced plastic, which is strong but also very lightweight, making it easier for a child to maneuver.
A four-wheel model of the Cheetah is also available, but in many cases this three-wheel model is easier to handle. It also takes up less space and looks cool to the kids.