Interview published in El Punt newspaper

10/03/10 02:00 - GERMÀ CAPDEVILA

An inventor who lives between La Secuita and Buenos Aires has created a wheelchair swing that is assembled in Catalonia with parts manufactured in Argentina and Catalonia. The swing is autonomous: the chair is tied up with a harness system and the users give themselves impulse by pulling a rope,  without needing additional help.

Josep Font has the clear idea that the integration of disabled people not only involves solving the most obvious needs, such as removing architectural barriers, but also to guarantee their access to things as basic as the amusement in playgrounds in parks and public spaces.

-As if the entrepreneurs didn’t have it hard enough, you have gone ahead with the project with the additional difficulty of living between Catalonia and Argentina.
–«In my case, I tried to take the advantages that each place gives  to make the idea come true, an idea that was not only mine but also of my father’s and the people of Handycat, the company that distributes the swing.»

–What is this swing like?
–«My father and I thought about it over and over again for a long time. Wheelchair accessible swings could already be found in the market, but they were designed to be installed in rehabilitation institutions, not in public parks or squares. Finally, we found ways to develop our model, which is an antivandalic swing, that can be installled in any places and it is virtually maintenance free.»

–In addition, you had in mind that people in wheelchairs could use it without others’ help. Why?
–«Exactly. The swing has an extremely simple system of belts and buckles that are easily tied to the chair. A set of gears allows the chair to be raised with no effort, and finally a rope allows the person to swing himself, without any external help. We thought it was an important aspect because, for disabled people, to do something by themselves increases their self-esteem.»

–I suppose that such an initiative has had the support and subsidies from government, right?
–«No. We did everything ourselves in our spare time. We did not receive any help, but it should be said that we didn’t ask for it either, because we believed that, in any case, support should come in the form of orders by the councils once we had developed the product. Each city or town in Catalonia should be able to have one of these swings.»

–Don’t you think it could be an expensive investment  for some councils?
–«Not at all. The swing is even cheaper than any of those integrated equipments installed nowadays in playgrounds. Moreover, it is not only for wheelchair users. Babies’ strollers can also be bind, and is very safe for small children. Many parents are not confident enough to remove children from their strollers and put them on certain swings. With ours, parents can swing their children without taking them from their strollers.»

–Is there any one installed?
–«We have one in Residencia Marinada, in Reus , and they very happy with it.»

–However, this invention does not respond to any vital need of the disabled. Isn’t it a luxury, when there are, perhaps, other more important things?
–«I don’t agree. The basic needs of the disabled must be attended, such as those of everyone. But they also have the right to have fun, to go to a park and spend a leisure time. The other day I saw a deaf blind girl on her wheelchair laughing and enjoying on the swing. I got goose bumps, and I realized how important our invention was.»

–The swing is made with parts made in Argentina and Catalonia, isn’t it?
–«Yes, 80% of the parts have been developed and manufactured in Argentina, and the rest in Catalonia, where the assembly is done.»

–Why Argentina?
–«It has to do with my personal story. I went to live there with their parents when I was almost five. I grew up within the Catalan community of Buenos Aires. I returned to Catalonia when I was 32. Now, because of my work, linked to the computing world, I spend about half a year in Argentina and half a year in Catalonia. I took the opportunities that gave the crisis in Argentina, with many factories well disposed to do anything to move forward. Perhaps, now it’s time to do the same in Catalonia. Crises are always a big boost for innovation.»

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