Encouraged by my fundraiser campaign I thought I could spread some knowledge on why it takes so much money to buy one wheelchair and what are the less known details about the costs of owning one!
Obviously, as with most technology, devices and gear, there exists: low cost, mid range and high end products. Wheelchairs not being an exception. However, the most important detail is the fact that a wheelchair is something a human individual has to rely on to live, rather than something one has choice to opt out of.
Depending on various nations and governments, disability equipment tends to be either covered, partly covered or not covered at all. Cutting straight to the equipment that’s covered – it mostly is largely mass produced and fits the general population that needs it. For example, a general wheelchair would have adjustable foot-rest and armrest height, as well as a couple of other details like back adjustments. For people with more unique size proportions and children, the wheelchairs would of course need to be more custom in terms of seat size, chair height, and such.
A general assumption is that if you can walk, you have a manual chair where you use your arms to push the wheels. If your whole body is weak, then you have a powered chair which has a joystick-like remote that you use with only your hand (or face, et cetera). But not as well met are the people who are in the middle. Like me, needing both manual and powered type of wheelchair. The technology and affordability has not yet met the middle type of user. An online anonymous user said, I quote
“I paid $5K for a chair that is too heavy, too wide and six feet tall. Cookie cutter chair. It is being replaced with a customized light titanium steel chair, costing $2800 tops.”
The issue is – if it’s affordable, it’s not practically of use for a decent everyday life (hospital-like chairs). If it’s technologically advanced – it’s not affordable. The demand is not yet big enough to meet the needs of a group of selected individuals. Arthur Torrey mentions
“Partly because of all the regulatory hoops that are required for ‘medical devices’ that manufacturer’s are required to jump through and must recover from a relatively small number of customers. “
A wheelchair can cost from around 100$ to one thousand, but a high-quality chair would be few to couple thousand dollars more than a regular, low end one. This is, to mention, not a matter of style or brand or popularity. All the costs reflect the precision of quality and variety of possible adjustments, as well as how sturdy and unbreakable it’s going to be. A 100 dollar chair will probably break after a day of cobblestone. Also, consider tyres and how many times you’ve heard someone pop their bicycle tyre. What if I popped my wheelchair tyre in the middle of traveling? I can’t just get off and get it fixed or changed without being stranded. So, these need to be top quality as well.
Weight of a general manual wheelchair is about 35 to 40 pounds (15 to 20 kg). Power wheelchair – from 150 all the way to 400 pounds (70 to 180 kg). An average cost of a power wheelchair is around 7000$. Type of wheels, battery life, individualized seat, et cetera, will also add and subtract within the total costs. Ergonomic features add up in weight and expenses equally as quickly. Let’s not forget my current seat cushion costs 500 euros, so let’s add that ass well. (I waited for it more than a year to get it, covered by the government). Here’s a quote by Kit Watson on Quora
“The big problem with wheelchair pricing is that wheelchair users often don’t have a lot of money. Furthermore, the users with the worst disabilities often need the more expensive wheelchairs while having the least money. (..) Sadly, the prices are set by capitalism rather than by ability to pay. In this case, that’s not a good thing.”
And something extremely true said by Dominick Evans
“To start, you need a a power wheelchair, so every five years you need an extra $30K. Power wheelchairs get run down from daily use, so every five years they need to be replaced. You also have to pay for tires every year, and new batteries every year, which is an additional $250-$500. (..) People with disabilities NEED these services. Without them we have no choice but to go into a nursing home. As I mentioned above, that is incredibly expensive. It costs the taxpayers way more to do that, than it does to help us stay in the community. In the community, we can be consumers. We can get jobs. We can contribute to society.”
While researching for the perfect fit of a chair for me, at first, I thought what I need is unreasonable and only wealthy people are supposed to be able to ever have this equipment. But then I realized that it’s not a luxury to have a decent chair that allows you to be a part of the society, work, live decently.
The wheelchair that works best for me personally has these 3 main features: it’s light, has powered wheels, is possible to fold for easy travelling. A heavy wheelchair is nearly impossible for an assistant to place in the back of a car, so having a 150 pound fully powered chair would need a whole new automobile that has a lift to get the chair into the car, in the first place. A car that has this equipment is three times as costly as a chair, if not more. Powered wheels are the best option for partly mobile people, who need that little extra push, helped by special technology and this is also my case.
The hybrid chair being partly manual and partly powered has equal costs if we took a part of the cheaper manual chairs and a part of the powered ones. My goal is to be able to afford a lightweight manual chair and powerful wheels, which would fix so many issues I encounter during my day. And if I have to sit down for the rest of my active life, I don’t mind it, as long as I can do it decently.
I hope that this cleared up a bunch of questions that the general population has. Please visit my fundraising campaign to read or watch a video about my story.
Categories: My Life in Words