Do You Have a Backup Wheelchair?

Sage advice from Karen Langley, Executive Director of REquipment, Inc., a Massachusetts AT Program reuse partner

A man wearing jeans and a knit cap stands next to a work bench holding two wheelchairs. Tools are mounted on the wall behind.
Jim Smith, REquipment Technician, at the Worcester AT Center

This week, REquipment Program Director Jen Baker received a call from a woman on the North Shore. The woman was looking for a power wheelchair and said she needed it right away. She had gone out to dinner with a friend the night before and while in the restaurant had turned off the power to her wheelchair. Getting ready to leave, she toggled it back on but to her surprise, no power! Needless to say, getting home wasn’t easy. (Most powerchairs weigh upwards of 150 pounds.)

The next morning she called her durable medical equipment (DME) company to have them come look at the wheelchair. They said it would be a week before they could come to assess it.  A week to come to assess it! They also said that if they had to take it back to the shop, it might take 4 to 6 months to repair. That’s right, 4 to 6 months! And they didn’t think they had a loaner chair to give her while hers was being repaired. Did I mention she was due to start a new job in one week? So having no backup chair and facing possibly months without her chair and no loaner, she contacted REquipment.  Luckily we had a power wheelchair that met most of her needs in our inventory.

A woman in a warehouse leans over a power wheelchair.
Jen Baker and the chair

Think about your own situation. What would you do if the durable medical equipment you rely on was broken and unusable? Do you have a backup plan?  You could face weeks in bed and develop secondary health conditions such as blood clots, pneumonia, and pressure sores, putting you at risk for hospitalizations. What about work or school? Can you take weeks off? Will your employer hold your job? Will you miss so many days of school that you fail the course or repeat the grade?

If you don’t have a backup plan, consider contacting your State or Territory AT Program to learn about reuse programs in your community (or use this National Pass It On Center search tool). In Massachusetts, REquipment Inc. is a MassMATCH partner providing free refurbished wheelchairs, scooters, shower chairs and more to adults, children and elders. If you live in Massachusetts, you can browse our inventory online and select equipment now before you need it. Keep in mind, having a backup manual wheelchair is also a good idea for disaster preparedness (should you lose power and need to evacuate).

Reuse programs like ours keep valuable equipment out of landfills and in the hands of people who need it. In 2017, REquipment gave away 856 pieces of durable medical equipment worth nearly $1.9 million. All told, the reuse services of the State and Territory AT Programs assisted 57,782 individuals in 2017 (according to Association of AT Act Program). Recipients acquired 74,205 reutilized devices and most report they would not have been able to afford the equipment or get it elsewhere if it were not for their State AT Program.

This is important work! Do you have gently-used equipment to donate? That’s another great reason to locate your local DME reuse program. As we say at REquipment, “Choose to Reuse Your DME.”