In 2011, Portia Mavhungu was involved in a major accident and spent seven months in a wheelchair after breaking her pelvis. During this time, her eyes were opened to the difficulties that disabled people face, especially when using the bathroom. She needed assistance from her mother and grandmother for all sorts of daily tasks. This loss of independence made her think about others whose entire lives are spent in a wheelchair, unable to use the bathroom independently. For this reason, Mavhungu came up with an innovative seating device called the PARA-TUBE. This device fits on to any wheelchair and consists of a seat, disposable bags and sanitisers. Mavhungu explains that the PARA-TUBE can be retrofitted on to any standard wheelchair and works with disposable bags and a portable, built-in toilet. The user only needs to pull the middle part of the seat forward by using a handle.
Mavhungu did not intend to become an inventor, but she always knew that she wanted to help people. A strong believer in inclusivity in all aspects of life, she recognised that a more accessible and less expensive way of accommodating people with disabilities through innovation is possible. She decided to quit her day job to pursue PARA-TUBE on a full-time basis. Mavhungu says that it took six years to develop a prototype. One of the biggest challenges that Mavhungu faced in the development was a lack of funding and resources. However, her hard work paid off when she received seed funding from the Technology Innovation Agency in 2017 and Industrial Development Corporation funding for commercialisation and testing in 2019. Together with her partner, Darushna Chellan, the funding they secured allowed them to further develop the product under their newly formed company, PRD Logical Solutions.
Driven by her passion to help others, the Pretoria-born creator says that easily usable technology for disabled people is a space that has been ignored in South Africa. There are many factors when it comes to having a disability — for example, the privilege that one has plays a fundamental role, and access to healthcare, education and employment opportunities all need to be taken into account. Mavhungu’s invention aims to improve the lives of those who use a wheelchair and do not have assistance by providing more independence to disabled people. Her efforts to change the landscape for disabled people has not gone unnoticed and Mavhungu was recognised by the President Cyril Ramaphosa in 2019 for her innovation. Market forces also indicate that this is a product that is desperately needed.
Mavhungu’s advice to young women who want to follow in her footsteps is to believe in yourself no matter what your circumstances are. She says: “There is no such thing as a stupid idea and we should never let our fears and failures become our navigator of life. We are stronger than this.”
There is no such thing as a stupid idea, and we should never let our fears and failures become our navigator of life. We are stronger than that.