Colorado passes nation’s first Right to Repair bill for wheelchairs, awaits Gov. Polis signature

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DENVER – Colorado wheelchair users have won a landmark victory that eventually could affect every U.S. consumer’s right to repair. The General Assembly approved HB22-1031, requiring manufacturers of powered wheelchairs to make available parts, tools, repair manuals, and digital access to owners and independent repairers at fair and reasonable prices. The Colorado bill also marks the first time an industry will be required to provide repair access since Massachusetts voters approved an automotive Right to Repair law at the ballot in 2013. 

“For decades, if something you owned broke, you could fix it yourself, take it to an independent repair shop or go back to the manufacturer,” said Danny Katz, CoPIRG executive director. “Unfortunately, as more of our stuff, from blenders to tractors, becomes digital, manufacturers increasingly lock us out, undermining the repair marketplace and driving up costs and inconvenience for consumers. After years of hard work, I’m proud to see the Colorado legislature step up and become the first state to give wheelchair users the right to repair their equipment. This is a big win in Colorado and an example for the dozens of states around the country working for their residents’ right to repair their stuff.” 

The bipartisan bill, sponsored by state Reps. Brianna Titone and David Ortiz, and state Sens. Rachel Zenzinger and John Cooke, passed the Senate earlier this week by a 30-5 vote. It now heads to Governor Polis to be signed. 

“The passage of this bill is a big deal, not just for the disability community, but for the Right to Repair movement as a whole,” said Representative Titone. “Many bills have been attempted over the years, but none have been successful until now. People should have the right to fix their own stuff. They shouldn’t be blocked and hamstrung with obstacles that create a lifecycle monopoly on any product. We’re giving Coloradans with wheelchairs the option to get the parts, tools and program access necessary to fix it themselves. Nobody should have to be stuck in a broken wheelchair because they can’t fix it.”

“When someone is confined to a wheelchair, their life is hard enough, and they don’t need big profit-seeking companies to make life even tougher by obstructing the good working order of the wheelchair,” said Senator Zenzinger. “This is a bill that clearly made sense, and now I hope the rest of the nation catches up to Colorado in short order. I’m proud that we were able to set the precedent.”

By focusing on wheelchair users, the legislative sponsors — along with advocates from CoPIRG, the Cross Disability Coalition, AARP, and the Arc of Colorado — were able to clearly demonstrate how important it is for consumers to be able to fix their equipment. Many repairs that wheelchair users need involve simple fixes such as batteries, wheels, joysticks and bearings. However, because a lack of access to tools and information limits repair options, too often service delays drag on for weeks or even months.

“If a part breaks on someone’s wheelchair, it needs to be fixed quickly. Going days or even weeks with a broken wheelchair can result in sores, injuries or someone can no longer leave their home,” said Julie Reiskin, Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition executive director. “Many of the things that break, we could easily repair ourselves or take it to someone we trust. We need the right to repair our stuff. We also need to reduce Medicaid barriers to getting repairs done quickly and we need to hold companies accountable that do not respond to their customer’s needs.”

Last month, the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition and CoPIRG released a compilation of repair horror stories from powered wheelchair users from around Colorado. The stories underscore both the adverse health impacts of a lack of access to repairs and the strong desire among wheelchair users to be able to fix their stuff.  

“This is a quality of life issue,” said Katz. “No one should be left with only one option for repair, especially when that option has a track record of stranding people without access to mobility.”