Executive Director, CoPIRG
Executive Director, CoPIRG
DENVER – Consumer and disability advocates applauded the Colorado Senate Business, Labor and Technology committee for passing HB22-1031, the Right to Repair for Wheelchairs bill, which would require manufacturers of powered wheelchairs to make available parts, tools, repair manuals, and documentation to owners and independent repairers at fair and reasonable prices to fix their wheelchairs. It also requires manufacturers provide the digital access needed to complete repairs.
The bipartisan bill is sponsored by Senators Rachel Zenzinger and John Cooke, passed 4-1 and received yes votes from committee members Senator Robert Rodriguez, Senator James Coleman, Senator Chris Kolker and Senator Cooke (who replaced Senator Liston on the committee). The bill has already passed out of the Colorado House of Representatives.
“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 are easy repairs that we should be able to do ourselves or take it to someone we trust. We need the right to repair our stuff. We also need to reduce barriers in Medicaid to get repairs done quickly and we need to hold companies accountable that do not respond to their customer’s needs.”
“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 are able to lock us out, undermining the repair marketplace and driving up costs and inconvenience for consumers. We were able to retain the right to fix our vehicles through a state bill. Now, we need to do the same thing for powered wheelchairs. If we can independently fix our cars that go 70 mph, we should be able to fix our wheelchairs that go 7 mph.”
Many requested repairs from wheelchair users are simple fixes like batteries, wheels, joysticks and bearings. If service delays drag on for weeks or even months, wheelchair users need to be able to access the necessary parts, tools and information to get them moving again on their own. Failing to have access to a wheelchair for even a day or two can lead to sores, injuries or health emergencies because of the critical role these mobility devices play for people who rely on them.
“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.”
“As a rural resident of Colorado living in Lamar, it is common knowledge that I will wait weeks for even the simplest electric wheelchair repair because Numotion will not respond to a rural call for just one customer,” said Kenny Maestas. “Going weeks without repair has consequences and has left me in an emergency situation on more than one occasion.”
Last month, the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition and CoPIRG released a storybank from powered wheelchair users from around Colorado who shared their repair horror stories. Here are some excerpts from the stories:
- “After the airlines destroyed my power chair, it took three months to be replaced. I was fortunate enough to have an old power chair that I could use in the interim but there could be no adjustments to make it fit. While the new chair continued to be assembled, I had to make the choice to either be bedbound or to use a chair that lacked the basic trunk support and hip alignment to keep my skin healthy. I ended up with a sore that required surgery and kept me down and additional month.”
- “Had a flat tire. new innertube was $6 on Amazon. NuMotion wanted to replace both wheels at a cost of $300 to Medicaid and 6-8 weeks to get them. Got the innertubes in 2 days but they would not install them. Went to Action, they installed them but it took 4 weeks! No idea what they charged Medicaid.”
- “….took 4 months and charged $500 for a button that allows Bruce to power his wheelchair. Without it, he is stuck in bed. Got it overnight mailed from Ebay for about $20 (2020). It plugs into a box like as it is phono plug like headset for an old phone.”
- “NM says that Permobil will not sell controllers to clients, only to dealers and will void a warranty if they found out a customer had a controller….Also just took 4 weeks to get a repair of an on/off switch that was making the chair unsafe.”
- “I kept having a malfunction on my joystick where it would just scroll when I would tilt. It I whacked it the problem would eventually resolve. They changed the wire that did not solve it. They ordered a joystick, that did not solve it (and took 6 months to get it). Eventually a tech went through the programming, and we learned there was some feature that was turned on in the original programming that was causing this magnet in a switch to cause the problem. For years this feature has been known as drive lockout or DLO — after a ton of hassle and multiple calls the tech guy from Rocky Mt finally was told the code and what to do. Had we been given the code with the chair this would have saved a ton of time of mine and Rocky Mt medical staff.”
- “I initially was unable to schedule a fix to my manual wheelchair frame with NuMotion despite recognizing a crack in the frame. I tried contacting the wheelchair manufacturer on my own. They wouldn’t help me without a visit and approval from NuMotion. When I called again, my appointment was set for several weeks later. Not long after calling, my frame broke, and I was without a wheelchair for two weeks. While this happened, I was employed full time as a para for students with disabilities and had to make significant adjustments at my job during that time.”
- “My current story is that my joystick randomly turned off (this was last August) and in trying to get my chair repaired I was able to get a new joystick, but they forgot the wire to attach it and I have yet to receive that wire this February. Luckily I had a backup joystick and wire that work so I am okay ish.”