Editor's Note

Desperate Measures

two hands holding up a sign that says help


While working on this issue, my MacBook’s battery died. “Service battery,” the MacBook said. Our IT department sprung into action. You know what they didn’t do? Ask me if I still needed a laptop to do my job of writing and editing a magazine.

And you know what I didn’t do? Try to get at that dead internal battery myself.

More states are introducing “right-to-repair” bills; Colorado’s bill was signed into law in June. These bills, which include wheelchairs, basically give consumers the right to buy parts and do the repairs themselves.

How many wheelchair owners or their caregivers — excluding CRT professionals — truly want to do their own repairs, let alone are qualified to? I can’t believe very many would want to — how many car owners change their own oil? Yet, right-to-repair bills are multiplying and enjoying strong support.

If people don’t enjoy repairing their own wheelchairs, why are so many rallying to do so? It’s a symptom of a larger problem: frustration over a lengthy, unwieldy system that can cause repairs to stretch on for months.

One of the common reasons for delays is the need to get funding sources on board before repairs begin. Suppliers who don’t get that blessing upfront can end up holding the bag for both their time and whatever parts were required for the repair.

Recently, I’ve read a couple of mainstream media stories on right-to-repair bills, and CRT doesn’t look good in them. In a Kaiser Health News article, the wife of a power chair user with multiple sclerosis lamented that their CRT supplier doesn’t buy and maintain a wide inventory of switches… even though the supplier can’t know when or if those switches will ever be used and reimbursed.

But while understanding why suppliers cannot maintain huge inventories of CRT components, I still felt this woman’s pain and frustration. I know this is a complex issue. But she loves her husband; she rightly worries about his immobility while his chair is down. It shouldn’t take weeks or months for a wheelchair to get repaired. But that doesn’t mean right-to-repair bills are a magical cure.

Truly helpful actions could include lowering unreasonable barriers to repairing medically necessary wheelchairs already approved by insurers. Another helpful change, suggests the University of Pittsburgh’s Mark Schmeler, Ph.D., OTR/L, ATP, is for insurers to pay for preventive wheelchair service, perhaps every six months… just as dental insurance providers routinely pay for six-month dental cleanings in the hopes of catching any problems early, before more costly and painful treatments are needed.

The take-away from right-to-repair bills isn’t that untrained consumers would make great repair techs. It’s that consumers are desperate for a real fix, and desperation makes us consider all options, even ones that don’t ultimately solve the problem. The industry’s challenge is to find an actual way forward... one that consumers will also embrace.

This article originally appeared in the May/Jun 2022 issue of Mobility Management.

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at [email protected].

Seating Benefits Podcast with Ride Designs