By Laura Hall
My first power wheelchair was a Quickie P320, that I began using at the age of 16. It had none of the power seating mechanisms nor any of the bells and whistles of today’s power mobility devices, just a solid frame and two workhorse batteries that saw me through my active high school days and those first long, cold winter jaunts across MSU’s campus as a college freshman and sophomore. “Greased Lightning”, as I called it, was loud and clunky, but sturdy and dependable and never had a breakdown or a mechanical failure.
By the time I was ready for my second power chair, much had changed in the world of power mobility. Quickie (now Sunrise Medical) had begun to focus more on manual wheelchairs, and because I was in college, power seating (i.e. tilt and recline) became more necessary for me to provide pressure relief and repositioning. However, more electronic components, naturally, lead to more potential sites for breakdown. Stronger competition among manufacturers and lower insurance reimbursement rates have forced them to produce cheaper parts and electronics and “streamline” customer service in a way that prevents them from being as responsive as they once were. For all of these reasons, the three subsequent powerchairs I’ve had have had more than their share of breakdowns and repairs, including a repair on my current chair that left me without mobility for two months. I often wonder if manufacturers and durable medical equipment providers truly understand the devastating impact that a major (or even minor) breakdown can have. For those two months, I felt quite literally trapped in my home, unable to go to work or even to the bathroom on my own, not to mention the pain that came from lack of pressure relief and trying to sit without the proper supports .
Unfortunately, my repair experiences are not uncommon. At the Michigan Assistive
Technology Program (MATP) we often receive calls and emails from people in the same situation, desperate to regain their mobility and independence. We decided to address the issue head on by forming a workgroup to take a closer look at the problems that arise in the repair process. One of our first tasks was to research whether there was any legislation that offered protections to owners of mobility equipment. As it turns out, there is! Public Act 54, otherwise known as the “Michigan Wheelchair Lemon Law”. The legislation states that any defect or malfunction with a wheelchair must be fixed within a “reasonable number of attempts” for the same problem – further defined in the legislation as four attempts. If a defect or malfunction is not fixed within a reasonable number of attempts, the consumer must notify the manufacturer (within 1 year from the date of purchase in the case of a new wheelchair, and 60 days from the date of purchase in the case of a used wheelchair) of the malfunction or defect and make the wheelchair reasonably available for replacement. The consumer is then entitled to a replacement wheelchair (which must be provided within 30 days of the old wheelchairs return), or a refund of the price paid.
Having a wheelchair lemon law on the books is certainly a positive step, however, the question is, is it usable? Given the repair process is often long and arduous, is it reasonable that a person could wait through four attempts to repair their wheelchair and still have time to notify the manufacturer within one year of purchase (or 60 days in the case of a used wheelchair)?
Your feedback of these issues is critical to the work of this workgroup. What is your experience with wheelchair breakdowns and repairs? Have you ever had a “lemon”? Have you used or heard of someone taking advantage of the Michigan Wheelchair Lemon Law? Let us know, and look for future blog article on the topics of wheelchair maintenance and repair as we continue to work on this important issue.