In Mobility 101 I explored accessible vehicles for wheelchair users. In this post, we'll take a look at how economic factors can limit the mobility of a wheelchair user.
Several factors are involved in this equation. First, the wheelchair user must have a wheelchair that is "right" for them - that is, it must be suitable to transport them where they need to go - in and out of the house,for example. Some wheelchair users can push a manual chair only for short distances depending on the weight of the chair. So if their insurance provider will only pay for a heavier manual chair, they may become housebound because they don't have a wheelchair that's suitable - unless they can afford to pay out of pocket for a suitable chair, such as an ultralight wheelchair or power wheelchair.
Another factor regarding wheelchairs is having the resources to get repairs done. Some people have manual or power wheelchairs that break down and have difficulty with access to repairs for economic reasons. They may not have the means to transport the wheelchair to a shop for repairs or lack funds or coverage to pay for repairs. More frequently, their wheelchair may run but in a limited way because of these factors and this in turn limits their mobility. There is also the issue of needing a new wheelchair long before a person is eligible for funding. Keeping an old wheelchair going can be tricky.
Another mobility issue affected by economics is transportation. Public transportation may be an option for some if they live near a bus route. We are still working toward accessible taxis in our country. Some communities provide services for disabled people where a van or small bus will transport them to certain places, such as a doctor's office. These options vary and result in varying levels of mobility for those depending on them based on where the person lives.
Although some wheelchair users are able to afford cars to transport their wheelchairs, many cannot. This issue is clearly explained when one looks at the cost of accessible vehicles, which range in price from $50,000 down. If certain adaptive features are necessary, that can raise the cost even higher. If a wheelchair user needs a ramp or lift to transport their wheelchair, they fall in the category of needing an accessible vehicle. Some wheelchair users, as noted in Mobility 101, can use "regular cars" to transport their wheelchairs. But this depends on their disability.
Grants and agencies that may help fund this equipment do exist. However, it can be difficult to get this funding and it isn't something a wheelchair user can count on. There is also the option of buying used equipment, but this carries some risks and even used equipment can be pricey.
Due to the high cost of this equipment, wheelchair users with the same level of disability will experience very different levels of mobility based on their financial situation, insurance or, if they are fortunate enough, assistance from family and friends. In fact, their mobility level will vary over their lifetime if their accessible vehicle ages out, for example, and they can't afford to replace it.
It is important for all of us to work toward a higher level of mobility for wheelchair users by continuing to explore available options to access to the equipment that makes that possible. One of the important factors in this equation for the wheelchair user is to remain as empowered as possible while exploring all options, whether it be used equipment, funding, or using this as an opportunity to create new options.
Economic limitations are a reality, however working to empower ourselves and assist others on that journey is key.