The Cost of Moving Crisis.

Blurred shot of a manual wheelchair moving towards the left of the camera down a corridor.

As mentioned in a previous post, shortly before Christmas (2022) the batteries of my powered wheelchair stopped working, and I was left with the decision of whether to replace the batteries or the wheelchair itself. My insurance conveniently didn’t cover batteries, but as it transpired the company where I purchased the wheelchair also covered wheelchair repairs, and so I was able to buy myself a couple of new batteries for a little over £300. This is significantly more than the amount of money I receive in a disability benefits each month, but was still a lot less than buying a new wheelchair, so I made the purchase.

A week after making the purchase, I still hadn’t heard anything from the company about when an engineer would be coming out to fit the new batteries, so I gave them a call. Despite having been told there was a good chance I would have the new batteries fitted by Christmas, I was now informed they wouldn’t be arriving until the new year. I apologized to my boss that I couldn’t make it into the office, and resigned myself to using the manual wheelchair (with the help of my husband) for holiday activities.

All too soon, the holidays were over and it was time to return to my desk. A few days later I still hadn’t heard anything from the company so I gave them another call. I was informed that the manufacturer still hadn’t shipped the batteries to them, but they assured me an engineer would have them and be able to fit them a week later.

The following week, an engineer came to our home to fit my new batteries, but to my surprise I was informed that the batteries provided belonged to a showroom wheelchair, and that the product I had paid for still had not arrived. I was grateful to be supplied with batteries that made my wheelchair functional after almost a month, but was somewhat annoyed that a repeat visit would have to be arranged once the actual batteries arrived.

A couple of days later I received a call confirming that my batteries had finally arrived, and a second engineer visit was confirmed for the following week, which I wouldn’t have to pay for, a relief given that the fee for a visit was £70. It was at this point that I tested positive for COVID.

Frustrated, I called the company to rearrange the visit, and since I continued to test positive for COVID the following week, I had to make the same call again a week later. By the time I no longer tested positive for COVID, it was early February.

In early February, the engineer fitted my new batteries. During the repair, the engineer made a comment about a few scuff marks, “joking” that I must be a bad driver; seconds later, he ran over the seatbelt with the wheelchair, shattering the clasp completely. He was mortified and committed to replacing the belt for free, but not having one on him, he would need to perform the repair at a later date. As of writing, I am still waiting for this repair to be performed.

While the seatbelt is not essential to the function of the wheelchair, I now need to be extra careful to avoid sudden stops and jolts, and taking my wheelchair onto public transport is now legitimately dangerous as I would have no seatbelt if an accident occurred.

I was without a functional powered wheelchair for almost a month, without the product I paid dearly for for almost 2 months, and without a seatbelt for even longer. Even had I not had COVID, the product I paid for would have taken over a month to be delivered, and had the matter been resolved in a timely fashion the COVID would not have factored into the matter at all. In contrast my binders, which had to cross America and the Atlantic, took only 2 weeks to arrive.

If the battery in question had been a car battery, it would have been replaced in a matter of days, and a replacement car would have been offered in the interim. However, because the battery was for a wheelchair, it took months to sort out. To be without a powered wheelchair was not a simple inconvenience, but resulted in isolation and anxiety. It impacted my work, my access to healthcare, and my social life. It is also not cheap, and the financial support offered to disabled people doesn’t even come close to covering the cost.

This is why damage to a mobility aid of any kind is such a serious matter. Repairing the damage is time-consuming, expensive and stressful, and in the interim our independence is stripped away. Despite this, the people responsible for this treatment of disabled people seem baffled as to why we get so upset over what they consider to be a mere inconvenience. I am incredibly privileged to have both the finances and the physical support from those around me to help me manage, but without either one of those things the wait to be able to use my wheelchair again would have been even worse.

My wheelchair is my freedom, and to take my wheelchair away is to take away my freedom.

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