Lincoln Wamae is a 30-year-old visionary and owner of Linccel Company in Nairobi. Last year, the BBC aired his unique story and shone a bright light on the amazing work he does; building motorized wheelchairs for disabled people. Lincoln, who isn’t disabled, says that he was moved by the struggles disabled people experience every day. He resolved to make a difference in their lives by building customized wheelchairs that are best suited for our country’s rough terrain.
The father of one was forced to drop out of school due to financial challenges. Born in Nyeri and growing up in Laikipia, he came to Nairobi to look for greener pastures. Lincoln recalls how difficult it has been for him to finally find his purpose. He credits all that he has achieved, to God. His story is inspirational and challenges the way we think and feel about the disabled community.
As a child what did you dream of becoming?
I always dreamt of becoming an engineer. Precisely, a mechatronics engineer. Before I dropped out of high school, I remember I was only interested in the subjects that would lead to me becoming an engineer. It was an audacious dream considering the fact that our school didn’t have even a single computer. My cousin was pursuing a mechatronics course and I drew a lot of interest and inspiration from him as well. Unfortunately, my dream of going to campus didn’t come true so I decided to teach myself how to become an engineer.
Which avenues did you use to educate yourself?
The internet was, and still is, an important part of educating myself. What is most strange is how despite not having ever interacted with a computer before, I was somehow able to find my way around. I have been given a gift that allows me to grasp things very fast, especially things that pertain to electronics and mechanics. At one point I attempted to build a drone that I was planning to use to fly away from Kenya and leave my problems behind. It was frustrating because I have always known I have potential but my environment and the people in it offered zero support. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the drone project was not successful.
What inspired you to make wheelchairs?
When I came to Nairobi, I was introduced to a lot of disabled people. I would meet them in the matatu as I was commuting to town from Githurai 44 which is where I live. Able-bodied people could push and pull to get a seat but the disabled had to wait until the queues ended so that they could comfortably find their place in a matatu. No one cared for them or even asked to help. I noticed that some would stay out up to very late in the night just to wait out the rush hour. It was then that I asked myself how I could help make their life easier. The answer was to make a wheelchair that was capable and durable enough to ferry them home if they didn’t want to wait for a matatu.
Tells us about the first wheelchair you made.
Like all good things, it started as just an idea in my mind. The problem was actualizing the dream and bringing it to life. It needed money and I had none. It took me three years to build my first wheelchair which was just a normal chair with wheels fixed to it.
How long does it take you to build a wheelchair today?
Today I can even build three chairs in one day. In the past it took me so long because I didn’t have access to the materials I needed, I also didn’t have the resources needed to procure the items in the first place. Most of the things I used at the time were sourced from the junkyard and second-hand dealers. At the time I was building the first chair, I had a day job so most of my time was spent at work and I only worked on the wheelchair in my free time.
Do you work on the wheelchairs from start to end or do you need assistance in some areas?
I am very much a jack of all trades. I work on the electronics; I build the frames and do the mechanic work. I build the chair single-handedly from A-Z. What seems to baffle people is my process of doing things. Rather than first designing my ideas on paper, I begin by physically making then them and later putting them on paper. I didn’t go to school for any of these things so again I give thanks to God for giving me an imaginative mind and the grace to create.
Who was the first beneficiary of your work?
Long before I even started making wheelchairs, I was already doing repair work for clients who had powered wheelchairs. I noticed that a lot of people have old chairs in the garage because there are no mechanics available to repair or even service them. If you visit APDK today, you will find hundreds of broken-down electric wheelchairs because there are no spares and not many people specialize in wheelchair repair. I would say that the first beneficiaries of my services were the people who needed repairs and quick fixes.
How do you get your customers?
I have made it a routine to approach any wheelchair user I meet on the streets. I strike up a conversation with them and explain to them what my line of work is. I enjoy socializing with disabled people because I realized that they are really nice and caring people. Once I establish a relationship with them, they give me work and refer me to their friends as well. The services I offer my customers range from mechanical, to electrical and replacing lithium batteries for a good offer.
Do you make wheelchairs full-time now?
Since 2018, I have been working full-time on designing and building wheelchairs. It was quite difficult in the beginning because I had to quit my job so that I could concentrate solely on wheelchairs. My wife was not very happy to hear that I was leaving work, but it was something I felt very passionate about and I was determined to pursue it. The journey was not easy, having a young family and being jobless in Nairobi was tough. 2019 was the hardest year so far but I am glad things have gotten better since then.
What challenges do you face in your line of work?
The main challenge is people’s mindsets that a wheelchair cannot be repaired once it breaks down. I often find it hard to convince people that it is possible to get the wheelchair going but they remain quite sceptical because they do not believe that there are competent professionals locally who can deal with motorized wheelchairs.
The other challenge is pricing. People feel like I sell my chairs expensively. I treat my work as a business and a means of livelihood. The price of the chair is made with consideration to the materials used, labour and quality. I haven’t partnered with any company yet that can help me subsidize the price but if I do, I won’t hesitate to lower the price.
How much do your wheelchairs go for?
I have different wheelchairs for different disabilities. The most expensive wheelchair I have costs around Ksh 120,000 which is a good deal if you compare it with the prices and quality of some of the chairs you can buy in the shop. Another advantage of my wheelchairs is that they are designed for our roads and so they don’t get stuck or break down because of our local terrain.
What impact did the BBC interview have on your work?
The video had so many views and I was hopeful that a prominent person or someone in government would watch it and take notice of the work I am doing. I was surprised by the fact that no one reached out to me. The only feedback I got was from abroad. I haven’t received any financial aid yet, but I get a lot of encouragement from people who take notice of my work and that motivates me more.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
I want to create employment for people with disabilities and empower them to be financially stable so that they can be independent and live fulfilling lives. Were it not for the coronavirus, I had a goal of making a hundred wheelchairs by the end of this year. In five years, I want to be in a position where 2000 local people will be using my wheelchairs and a further 2000 people living abroad. So far, eleven of my wheelchairs are already benefiting users. I intend to make more by God’s grace.
Brian Muchiri is a creative mind, passionate about meaningful storytelling that not only entertains but also positively impacts the reader. His style of writing is lighthearted and provocative, leaving his audience with deep introspection. Brian is also a disability advocate and champion for articulating issues faced in the disability community. He enjoys listening to music, watching documentaries and attending concerts.