After an accident in 2007 that caused him to lose 91 percent of his ability to work, Le Huy Tich did not quit on himself, but worked to develop an electronic wheelchair that helps people in the same situation.
About 2,000 electronic wheelchairs called Etic Tribike, developed and manufactured by Tich, are in use in more than 20 provinces in Vietnam.
This electronic vehicle helps many paralyzed people move and work to make their lives comfortable and convenient.
Inspired by a chicken
Despite being confined to a wheelchair for a dozen years, Tich runs the Etic Tribike mechanic workshop as a director at Hoa Binh Provincial Disabled Limited Company in Tan Thinh Ward, Hoa Binh City.
Before the unfortunate accident in 2007 that left him paralyzed due to a spinal cord injury, Tich worked for seven years at a company in Hoa Binh, a northern mountainous province located only about 76 kilometers from Hanoi to the northwest.
Due to the accident, Tich had to abandon his plan to get married and quit his job despite a possible promotion.
He later laid down at the house for three consecutive years, with many parts of his body ulcerated.
However, thanks to an unknown miracle, he later recovered from the serious accident despite his deteriorating health.
With a desire to be able to get around by himself, or at least to take care of himself, Tich wanted to buy an automatic wheelchair from Italy.
When he learned that the price of the vehicle was VND67 million (US$3,065), too much for a disabled person like Tich, he abandoned the idea.
As a former mechanic with certain technical knowledge, Tich came up with the idea of building an automatic wheelchair himself, powered by a cheap battery.
"At that time, almost ten years ago, there was already a kind of tricycle that was developed from a two-wheeled motorcycle," he recalled.
"Since the motorcycle was intended for people with less severe paralysis, I was unable to get on it myself.
"That made me think of another vehicle that would suit me better."
In 2015, after two years of working on the idea, Tich succeeded in developing the first model of an automatic wheelchair with electronic propulsion. Unfortunately, that model failed to meet his expectations.
"My first model, where the cabin was shrunk, caused the vehicle to sway a lot while driving on the road," Tich recounted.
"You actually needed another person to hold the vehicle from behind, and you couldn't move safely.
"I was very disappointed at that time, but I was determined not to give up."
Once, Tich was sitting in the yard watching a rooster walk by. As he watched the chicken stretch its neck forward to keep its balance, he looked at the cab with the engine and noticed the similarity between the two things.
Thanks to this discovery, Tich transferred the chicken's way of keeping its balance to the motor part of his motorized wheelchair.
He increased the angle of the traction cab to keep the power wheelchair balanced during travel and reduce uncomfortable vibrations on impact.
"I have to thank the chicken for teaching me how to balance the power wheelchair," the man said.
Tich's electric wheelchair uses smart joints without the need to connect the motor to the wheelchair.
The most practical part is the separation between the wheelchair and the motor, which makes it effortless to assemble and disassemble within ten seconds.
At the end of 2015, Tich introduced his first power wheelchair at the price of VND12 million ($484), which was VND7 million ($283) lower than that of a power wheelchair version already available in the market.
This power wheelchair can carry two people with a maximum weight of 150 kilograms and have a range of about 70 kilometers.
"Ninety percent of our customers use motorized wheelchairs to earn a living as vendors, transport goods, take children to school, and for other daily chores," Tich said.
"Most of them are poor, which makes me think about how we can lower the price to make it affordable for them."
|Le Huy Tich won the second prize in the 3rd competition of the 2020 Initiatives for Community in a supplied photo.|
Helping the disabled
Ta Quang Minh, a worker who has been working at Tich's workshop for two years, shows his great admiration for him.
"I especially admire Tich's will and determination," Minh said.
"Although he is the director of the company and there are many workers, Tich still works directly and instructs others to work carefully and enthusiastically.
"He even works tirelessly until 9:00 or 10:00 pm to meet the deadlines of some big orders.
"Thanks to him, I have a secure job with a monthly salary of VND9 million [$363]."
As an 'insider,' Tich knows very well what disabled people need and what they want to achieve with a power wheelchair.
That is why he has made constant efforts to improve the functions of the following models of the vehicle.
Tich's electric wheelchairs are the three-wheel or four-wheel models that can carry three people including the driver, one model for transporting goods between warehouses, and another for collecting agricultural products by hand.
He has also made some tools that disabled people like him can use for their work, such as a table suitable for wheelchair users and a small seat that helps paralyzed people move without using a wheelchair.
Ban Van Tuan, a member of the Man ethnic minority, one of 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam, said, "I lost a leg in a traffic accident, and at the time I thought there was nothing I could do. "At first, I found Tich to buy a motorized wheelchair, but he advised me to work in his workshop."
"I used to work as a driver responsible for delivering goods and repairing electric vehicles in the workshop, now I can open my own workshop," Minh said.
"I have learned a lot from Tich, not only mechanical skills, but also his strong will and desire to live a meaningful life and contribute to the community."
Tich plans to establish a center for disabled people to live and work, helping them integrate comfortably and confidently.
Difficult to raise capital
Although nearly 2,000 Etic Tribike motorized wheelchairs have been sold so far and demand is high, Tich cannot meet the demand.
"There are several large orders, but I do not have enough capital to import materials and components, I can only produce a small number of products," Tich said.
"I have lost 91 percent of my working capacity according to the official health check, which prevents me from accessing capital sources.
"Also, because I live in a faraway province, it is more difficult to get loans from organizations to increase production.
"I hope other companies and organizations will cooperate with me to produce as many power wheelchairs as possible so that disabled people can move around comfortably."
Tich's Etic Tribike motorized wheelchair has won two awards so far.
The model finished among the three best products in the SDG Challenge 2019 competition.
A year later, at the 'Initiatives for Community' competition held in the third year in Hanoi in 2020, Tich rode his Etic Tribike from Hoa Binh Province to Hanoi and even rode on stage at the event to receive the second prize.
Tich has still not applied for intellectual property protection (IPP) for the Etic Tribike model, however.
"This invention is for the community, so it is not so important for me to apply for IPP," he said.
"If there is a company that can produce the same wheelchair at a lower price, I would be incredibly happy because disabled people can buy power wheelchairs at a lower rate."
Nguyen Thi Xuan Huyen, deputy chairwoman of the People's Committee of Tan Thinh Ward in Hoa Binh City, said, "Tich is an excellent example of a disabled person who has been able to overcome his unfortunate fate.
"Not only does he produce the Etic Tribike motorized wheelchair model at the lowest price, which helps paralyzed people move over long distances, he also creates more jobs for people living in the same conditions."
Tich's positive attitude toward life has inspired other disabled people and helped them lead a more confident life and integrate into society, Huyen added.