Today’s news:

New scholarships from 1800−wheelchair

A Brooklyn−based online business that serves disabled people in the U.S. and abroad is now accepting applications for its bi−annual college scholarship fund.

Located at 185 Marcy Avenue in Williamsburg, 1800wheelchair.com is an online retailer of wheelchairs and other medical supplies. Since 2006, it has offered one $500 scholarship per semester to a high school senior or college undergraduate who best answers an essay question, which usually has to do with a disability−related issue.

For example, the question for fall 2008 was: “Describe how they have offered or received a helping hand?”

The question for this semester is a little more broad: “What’s the most important piece of advice you can give to other students about to start their academic journey. How did you arrive at this wisdom?”

Although not a requirement, preference is given to students with mobility disabilities.

1800wheelchair.com was founded in 1998 by Crown Heights resident Joseph Pikarski, who thought the percolating field of e−commerce was a good fit for the disabled population.

“As the internet started to develop, I saw it as a tool that would allow people access to medical supply products who normally would have difficulty getting to the store,” said Pikarski.

In the intervening decade, the 15−person operation has become one of the top online medical supply companies in the country, shipping around 2,000 wheelchairs a month. In addition to wheelchairs, the company sells other supplies for disabled people such as ramps, cushions, and even clothing like a specially−designed rain poncho.

And the business is expanding: On the heels of launching a site in the United Kingdom, the business will soon launch a site in Canada.

For those who can’t find what they’re looking for on the site, the business uses its directory of stores all over the country to refer customers.

Darren Ortsman, the company’s marketing director, said the scholarship was a good way to reach out to a younger demographic of customers.

“In trying to help people in this market, you’re dealing a lot with an older popuation. We wanted to reach out to a younger population.”

Pikarski said the scholarship is a good fit for a business that aims to help people.

“We’re able to help people by taking this product information and putting it online. The scholarship program is a natural extension of that,” he said.

Of the 50 applications received so far, only one of them comes from Brooklyn, Ortsman said. Since the scholarship was founded, no winner has come from Brooklyn.

“Growing up in Brooklyn and with my business located here, we want all eligible Brooklynites to apply,” said Pikarski. “I’d like nothing more than to grant this scholarship to a student from Brooklyn.”

***

Applications will be accepted until June 1st. To apply, go to www.1800wheelchair.com⁄scholarship. The scholarship winner will be announced on June 30th.

Essays must be between 300 and 500 words. High School seniors and college undergraduates are eligible to apply.

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