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Monday, May 5, 2008

Wheelchair Companies: Inferior Products and Services

This morning I read the following post at Pitt Rehab:

"I ordered my new wheelchair parts on April 3 and I still have not heard from the durable medical equipment company. I guess I need to give them a call today and find out if any of the parts are even in.

Can you imagine waiting on a part for your car for one month? Do you think it would be acceptable? What bothers me the most is no sense of urgency on the part of the durable medical equipment company. If you're in the Pittsburgh area I would not recommend using Apria health care. The technicians are always nice when they come out but everything takes forever to be accomplished."

I have not dealt with a wheelchair company in over 20 years because of similar problems expressed above. Within a few years of using a wheelchair I concluded all wheelchair companies and surgical supply companies had one thing in common--inferior and poorly designed products and, secondly, grossly rude and inferior service. Luckily I do not need a complex wheelchair. I have three identical wheelchairs that I subject to all sorts of abuse. The frames have a service life of more than 15 years and I farm out moving parts to companies that specialize in bikes, yachts or custom motorcycle repair. I expect and receive excellent service.

My solution to the mechanical working of my wheelchair is unique and expensive. It is also highly individualized and one that bothers me as I enjoy freedoms few other wheelchair users enjoy. Thus my heart goes out to all those that are forced to deal with wheelchair companies. Wheelchairs are not designed to last and provide reliable use. I will acknowledge that one cannot expect all parts of a wheelchair to last a long period of time. Bearings and tires wear out on a regular basis and need to be replaced. But wheelchair companies do not stock needed parts nor does any company I have ever heard of repair a wheelchair in a timely fashion. This is not just unacceptable it is criminal.

Why I wonder do wheelchair users such as myself take advantage of the internet? There is historical precedent for this. In the 1940s Virginia Grace Wilson Laurie, popularly known as Gini, began the Toomy j. Gazette that would go on to become the Rehabilitation Gazette in 1970. This publication began as a way to keep people who had been hospitalized with polio in contact with one another. As the years passed it became an early voice in the disability rights movement and go to guide to finding the answer to adaptive equipment. No such publication exists today, that is a publication specifically geared to finding the correct adaptive gear or as in the case above the appropriate part for a wheelchair in need of repair. There is a modern day equivalent--internet car forums. As the owner of a VW Touareg, an SUV with gadgets galore, I have found answers to some obscure questions by reading VW forums.

The above makes me wonder why such forums about wheelchairs do not exist. This would solve many problems if the corporations that manufacture wheelchairs would support them. I sincerely doubt this will ever happen as the profit margin is not to be found in the repair of a perfectly good wheelchair that needs a new part. Perhaps independent living centers could take the lead. Such centers are likely to work with a host of different wheelchair users and wheelchairs in need of repair. Surely maintaining a forum about wheelchair companies and wheelchair parts would not be expensive to host. Such a forum if it existed could also change the lives of disabled people. For instance, people would not need to wait months for a part to arrive. Better yet, wheelchair reviews could be posted by the real experts--the people who use them. The more I think about this the more I like the idea. Of course, one must expect the proverbial but... and here is comes: I do not have an interest or knowledge to start this and maintain it. Yet I do know the need exists. Surely some smart reader out there can run with this idea. Perhaps such a forum even exists that I do not know about. In the meantime, for all those with a wheelchair in need of repair know there is at least one guy out there that understands your frustration.


Greg (Accessible Hunter) said...

Thanks so much for your post, I wish I had better choices in service....ugh

william Peace said...

Greg, no need for thanks. People who do not use a manual rigid frame wheelchair have precious few options, none of them appealing. I get very upset when I read stories such as yours because I know it affects your quality of life. I also know no corporations or individuals who work for them that truly care about the every day lives of disabled people.

Unknown said...

Just recently found your excellent blog, and am reading my way from the beginning to present.

Agreed that our equipment is crap, made and maintained by people that don't care about us - why should they, their primary customers are the insurance companies, not us...

Not quite what you are suggesting, but close, check out - arguably the top site in the world for people wanting to fix, hack and improve their power chairs (many of us won't drink the manual chair kool-aid) Highly recommended.