MacArthur Fellows Program

MacArthur Fellows / Meet the Class of 1989

Ralf David Hotchkiss

Rehabilitation Engineer

San Francisco, California

Age: 42 at time of award

Published August 1, 1989

Ralf Hotchkiss is a rehabilitation engineer and a proponent of independent living for disabled people.

Hotchkiss designs wheelchairs and has set up a growing network of factories in twenty-five developing countries, where people with disabilities build state-of-the-art wheelchairs using inexpensive, local materials.  His inventions include the Appropriate Technology International-Hotchkiss wheelchair, the “Torbellino Whirlwind.”  He is the author of Independence Through Mobility (1985), a work that explains how to make wheelchairs simply and economically.  He is currently experimenting with designs for all-terrain, off-road vehicles that will still function as effective wheelchairs in the kitchen, the work site, and the outhouse.  His personal goal is to cross Africa by back roads with a vehicle that can be rebuilt by any blacksmith.

Hotchkiss co-founded the Rehabilitation Engineering Technology Program (1987) and the Wheeled Mobility Center (1989) at San Francisco State University, where he is the Distinguished Research Scientist in the Department of Engineering and the Technical Director of Whirlwind Wheelchair International.  He also founded the Center for Concerned Engineering (1971) with Ralph Nader.

Hotchkiss received a B.A. (1969) from Oberlin College.

Last updated January 1, 2005.