By Lucia Rios, Guest Blogger
One of the most important pieces of assistive technology in my life is the manual wheelchair. It’s the accessory I never leave home without. Wheels enable my independence. Wheeling gives me confidence. Not only has my wheelchair been customized to fit me, but each ding, scratch and tear tells a deeper story of its use.
I use my wheelchair 365 days a year. I use my wheelchair from the moment I wake up until the time comes for sleep. That’s a lot of time!
Yet my wheelchair is not just an object to get me from one place to another, it’s part of my world and loved. Just like a car, a manual wheelchair can only take so much. I think a wheelchair undergoes more abuse than a car because the demands of its use are constant. And yet it’s like owning a car – you’ve got to keep it running.
I must admit that I’m totally clueless when it comes to maintaining a car, which is why I use a mechanic. You can ask for referrals from friends and there seem to be many options on places to take your car. However, I realized that durable medical equipment providers – such as Airway Oxygen and CareLink – are not always the easiest to connect with or affordable when on a budget.
Let’s be honest, it’s an expense to own a car and the same goes for maintaining a wheelchair. As I started to utilize my wheelchair more often I noticed the upkeep took time, money and problem solving. I’m not one to keep my information to myself, so here are solutions I learned along the way.
To be honest I didn’t think of this solution by myself. While interacting with a new friend – who also uses a wheelchair – I told my woes about wheelchair maintenance. Having to make an appointment at the medical equipment provider, high costs, etc. He asked if I thought about using a bike shop. I hadn’t.
So I started visiting bike shops. I asked for help airing my tires, and inquired about buying tires for my chair. The first pair I bought were under $30 and there was no service fee to put them on! I was hooked. I ditched the medical equipment venues and went to my local bike store for all my wheelchair maintenance needs.
Tires, lights to use at night, tightening of spokes and unexpected flats – the bike store was my go to. Better yet, I didn’t have to schedule an appointment! With each request I was treated with dignity, charged a reasonable fee, and air was always free!
When I was being fitted for a new wheelchair – which is exciting because at that point my wheelchair is on its last spin – I hear what insurance considers “extras”.
- Tires with better traction for snow – an extra $100 to upgrade.
- Vibrant colors – insurance won’t cover your preferred choice so you’ll have an out-of-pocket expense.
- A bag to hold personal items – sorry you’ll have to pay $50 for a standard black tote.
- And the list goes on.
Frustrated and looking for a cheaper solution I went online. I was excited to see their were options for a wheelchair user that were not only affordable, but trendy.
- Amazon – after typing in “wheelchair accessories” at amazon.com brought up a variety of solutions for holding personal items. Small bags, large bags, water bottle holders, and even the same bag I was told would be an extra $50! Prices varied but it’s possible to find a nice bag within $10 – $30.
- SportAid – an online store that sells wheelchairs and accessories. It has over 30 categories of products ranging from books to equipment for daily living. Prices varied and you can find a bag that is between $10 – $50, however stylewise it’s very generic.
- Google – the search engine can direct you to so many types of wheelchair accessories. But I also played around with keywords and searched “wheelchair accessories”, “manual wheelchair bags” and “cool wheelchair accessories”.
I’m a huge fan of social media, especially when it comes to spreading awareness about the disability experience. Being able to use pictures to explain barriers that I face in my day-to-day life has been a great way to educate, but also challenge others to think of their environments. Facebook has also been a go to when I’ve run into problems with flat tires, inaccessible venues and a quick way to ask for assistance!
Once my tires went flat while I was at the store. I typed a quick message on Facebook, asking if anyone knew of an open bike store – it was business service hours. Within minutes I had offers to assist, website addresses to bike shops, and a person willing to pick me up! I took up a friends offer and met him at the local brewery so he could patch up my tire. He fixed it, bought me a beer and gave me my own small tire repair kit!
So, I’m curious, what maintenance tips do you have for your AT?