Wheelchairs: A Job Lifeline for Disabled Consumers and Workers

The Arrow
After about a year of trying, I've finally made some progress in getting one of my power wheelchairs fixed in Massachusetts. I have two power chairs, an Invacare 3G Torque and an older Arrow Formula CG, which I now use as a backup. Yes, I know they sound like Formula One racing cars.

My newest chair, about two years old, has an intermittent electronic malfunction. This means sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. When it doesn't work, I find myself
The Torque
sitting in the tilt-back position on the seat, or elevated, above the normal sitting position. I then need help to get out of the chair and transfer into my backup chair.


Power chairs and new cars 


These power chairs, by the way, are not cheap. Each chair costs about $20,000, depending on the needs of the individual. Chairs sometimes exceed the cost of a new small car or a late model used car. For example, I saw a new Toyota Corolla listed for about $19,000.00 last week, when I took my van in for service. The dealer told me he could bring down the price of the car to make it even more attractive to buy. Go figure, I have never been able to negotiate the price of a power chair!

The cost of a wheelchair is predominately covered by insurance - - medical, Medicare or settlements due to negligence, for example.

I have never called a “complaint line” 


After calling anywhere from five to ten vendors for help, and visits to my home by two wheelchair technicians, I couldn't get anyone to repair the chair. So, I used the Invacare complaint phone number listed on their website. I have never called a “complaint line,” but I was at the end of my rope this week.

I stayed on the phone with a customer service representative, Kim, who worked with me for about 50 minutes. She found the serial numbers for both my chairs in the Invacare database, and while working with Motion Concepts (the manufacturer of the base for each of my wheelchairs), found a retail vendor to help me. The vendor joined us on a three-way call, which she brought on the phone line, to handle my problem.

The vendor took all my insurance information and scheduled an appointment for next week, Friday, February 19. Call me a hopeless romantic, but I am optimistic that this will work out.

Servicing wheelchairs promptly is important because it keeps people like me, a C-5-C6 quadriplegic, active and independently mobile. If disabled people can’t keep their equipment running, they can't get to work, see a doctor or go shopping. And, if an employer can’t count on me to show up  for work every day, it's very difficult to get a job. This is what employers are looking for – – someone who is skilled, reliable and committed to getting to work. 

Servicing wheelchairs is a business, just like performing car maintenance (and may cost as much) 


In Massachusetts, unlike my past experience in New York State, it's very difficult for wheelchair riders to get assistance and have chairs repaired on a timely basis. 

In New York, however, I did find some vendors who wouldn’t repair my chair because it wasn’t purchased through them. 
This practice has to change, by federal or state law if needed. Too many dealers go out of business, thus leaving wheelchair riders “holding the bag” - - in other words, with no place to repair their chairs.

In Massachusetts, two wheelchair vendors refused to work on my wheelchair because, according to them, they couldn’t make enough money given my insurance coverage. When I offered to pay cash, the vendors said they were not allowed to take cash if I had a “certain type” of insurance, which I did, in addition to my primary coverage.

The respective vendors said reimbursement payments are too low and they suggested I change my plan. I was between “a rock and a hard place,” until this week.

MassHealth Disability Advisory Council 


This is why I keep two wheelchairs, my backup chair and my new one. When the chairs work, they work fabulously well. When they don't work, I feel helpless and “really” disabled.

When your car breaks down, how do you feel? First, you get angry. Second, you may kick the tires. And, finally, you feel hopeless. Your whole schedule is shattered. Add all of these feelings to a disability, then imagine how we feel. You can't walk, you can't drive, and you can't get to work.

At a MassHealth Disability Advisory Council meeting last year, a colleague said that many disabled people decide not to work specifically because of the inability to get wheelchairs repaired in a timely manner and at affordable prices.
This issue is just one of several important issues that diminish the “will” to work as a disabled individual. 

MassHealth and the State of Massachusetts are taking great pains to correct this problem, but progress is still too slow for the disabled. I'm sure other states looking at this issue are probably struggling as well.

So, what can be done?

Here are some ideas that state health organizations (governments) should consider when creating standards of service for disabled wheelchair users, both who work and don’t work:

  • Create a Wheelchair Manufacturer-Insurance Provider-Vendor Advisory Board to offer guidance, training and vendor certification for state health organizations serving both the employed and non-working disabled population 
  • Set up a wheelchair training program (create jobs) 
  • Set up wheelchair service fleets, territories, franchises 
  • Establish pricing standards, parts centers 
  • Consider selling wheelchair maintenance or service contracts 
  • Select and promote qualified, certified wheelchair vendors to serve a particular market(s) [independent living centers, long-term care, individuals) 
  • Advertise and promote certified wheelchair vendors and services to disabled consumers 
  • Establish wheelchair service levels, such as emergency and routine service calls (establish deadlines) 
  • Create intake centers for wheelchair repair and dispatch services -- even “drive-through” services 
  • Make this a viable business opportunity



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