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Legislation headed to state Senate would allow owners, independent repairers, access to parts, tools and information to fix wheelchairs
DENVER -- The Colorado state House passed a bill Tuesday, 44 to 21, to grant power wheelchair users the right to repair their wheelchairs. If the legislation becomes law, manufacturers could no longer prevent people from accessing parts, service instructions or other repair resources. When you rely on your powered wheelchair for basic mobility, any delay in repair becomes a significant quality of life issue. Yet in recent years, delays of weeks or even months for repairs has become a widespread issue for wheelchair owners.
“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. But as more of our stuff -- from blenders to tractors -- becomes digital, manufacturers are able to lock us out of the software that runs the devices, undermining the repair marketplace and driving up costs and inconvenience for consumers, ” said Danny Katz, CoPIRG’s executive director. “We were able to retain the right to fix our motor vehicles through a state bill. Now, Colorado is poised to extend repairs rights to powered wheelchairs. If we can independently fix our cars that go 70 miles per hour, we should be able to fix our wheelchairs that go 7 miles per hour.”
In addition to being supported by CoPIRG, PIRG’s Colorado affiliate, the bill was backed by Colorado Cross Disability Coalition and Arc Thrift Stores. It was sponsored by state Rep. Briana Titone, a long-time Right to Repair champion and state Rep. David Ortiz, who is a wheelchair user himself.
“I'm grateful for my colleagues to recognize the benefit of this important bill. For too long, manufacturers and specialty repair providers have had a monopoly on repair. This has stymied wheelchair users' ability to make fixes to their own chairs,” said Rep. Titone. “Delays in fixing wheelchairs is not merely an inconvenience. It could result in more damage to the chair or cause injuries to the chair user. People should have the freedom to be able to fix their own devices.”
The bill will now be taken up by the state Senate, and is the first Right to Repair measure to clear a legislative chamber so far in 2022, after multiple bills advanced in 2021.
"If it has a microchip in it, some manufacturer is going to try locking down the device against repair,” noted Gay Gordon-Byrne, the executive director of Repair.org. “We have had wheelchair repair advocates join our Right to Repair efforts since almost the beginning, but it's incredible to see how far this conversation has come. To me, it's just very compelling: I just don't see how anyone could oppose letting the owner of a wheelchair decide how to get their chair fixed. I’m excited to see how progress in Colorado can move our efforts forward across the nation."
Last week, 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 an (sic) 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)”
“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. If (sic) 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.”
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