Born with disabilities, Sam designs mobility equipment for the disabled

Ruben Ayala

Sam Durgin 1963 –

Sam, a father of six, was born with a club foot. He spent his childhood undergoing one surgery after another. Today, his hobbies include swimming, going to the sauna, flying kites, and riding his custom-made bicycle. After attending a technical high school, he began working at Rifton Equipment, designing products for people with disabilities. In a way, he was already involved in the company as a child:

My dad was one of Rifton’s earliest designers and made me a special chair that allowed me to sit comfortably and concentrate on my school work. Later, during high school, I drew up parts for the products another designer at the company was making. Eventually I became a designer myself, a job I thoroughly enjoy. There is a lot of interaction with therapists and with kids, thinking up solutions, building prototypes, and making improvements.

I worked with my hands, and I still desire to work, and most earnestly do I desire that all my brothers should employ themselves in honest work. Let those who do not know how to work learn, not from anxiety to receive wages, but for good example.
Francis of Assisi

On one level, Sam’s work is technical: “We use SolidWorks, highly sophisticated modeling software, and a 3D printer.” But designing and manufacturing a winning product demands more than good tools: “It requires passion, a commitment to teamwork, and the readiness to keep learning new things.” Talking about the Rifton Activity Chair, a bestseller he helped design, Sam says: 

We had already garnered all the customer input we could, related to seating. But for this chair, we categorized all the particulars and ranked them on a big spreadsheet so that we could see which issues emerged at the top. We came out of that project having addressed the top thirty-five. It was an enormous effort, but it was worth it. That chair has become a standard seating solution for people with disabilities. It’s now selling around the world.

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