Getting Answers: legislation to improve consumer protection for wheelchair users
(WGGB/WSHM) - Western Mass News is getting answers as Massachusetts lawmakers are working to pass a bill that would strengthen protections for wheelchair users in the state as many often find themselves in need of repairs without a replacement.
“I would not have any other option than going to an old manual chair or staying in bed because if I don’t have the chair, it will take forever to repair,” said Carmen Rosado.
Rosado is one of the nearly one million Massachusetts residents who relies on a wheelchair to get around each day. She was born with quadriplegia and has spent the past 26 years of her life using a power chair, which finally allowed her to experience a sense of independence.
“Since then, I have had freedom of going everywhere that I need to, going to college, going to work, and going to shop, CVS, or anywhere else I can move around,” Rosado explained.
Rosado got a new chair just last month after the one she had for six years broke, but getting this one custom-made took an entire year.
“When I applied for this one, I needed lights in the chair because I usually go out or after work and it is dark, so I need that, but they do not consider that medical necessity…I was also trying to get a camera, so I could see the ground or who was behind me and they do not approve that because those are not medical necessities,” Rosado explained.
However, what happens if Rosado’s chair breaks? Western Mass News is digging deeper into the consumer protection laws in the state of Massachusetts. An act that would expand wheelchair warranty protections, requiring the state to provide a loaner chair and doubling the existing warranty time from its current one year requirement, was filed on Beacon Hill in early 2021 and brought to a hearing in July of that year.
State Representative Jake Oliveira is one of a dozen lawmakers pushing for the legislation to pass this session.
“We are calling for a two-year warranty for all wheelchairs and scooters, but it also goes beyond that. It says after three days that you have notified the manufacturer that your wheelchair or scooter is broken down or has repair issues, they have to contact you within that time period. Sometimes, you wait weeks to hear back from these companies and there is a long list for them,” Oliveira said.
Oliveira told Western Mass News this bill is modeled after several that have passed in other states like Connecticut and Rhode Island, aimed at adding a layer of protection for those that rely on wheelchairs for everyday living, like Rosado.
“Right now, if a person that relies on a wheelchair or scooter if they have, if it breaks down, particularly sometimes when they are very expensive, they can be thousands of dollars in range they were days, weeks, months, and imagine being without your vehicle for that long if you rely on it,” Oliveira explained.
The attorney general’s office would be responsible for holding the manufacturers accountable and also ensure they get back to you in a timely manner.
“This guarantees that they need to contact you within three days and within four days if you’re notified, they have to provide you with a comparable device, so you were able to actually participate and go to work and go to the grocery store and do all of the things that you need to do in order to live an independent life,” Oliveira added.
Part of the long waiting period also comes from the lack of parts and the few places repairs can be done.
“A lot of people need them because the parts break down, parts are not available for them to be able to fix them, and they do not know where to look,” said Hector Lebron, transportation coordinator at the Stavros Center for Independent Living in Amherst.
Lebron’s job is to repair older chairs that are brought in as donations and then provide them to those in need at no cost. He said new chairs can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $32,000 without insurance.
Rosado’s chair cost her $22,000 and it took around three months for her to get approval from insurance to cover that cost, but many who are disabled do not have the same access to medical insurance.
“Many people don’t have that resources and they can’t afford it because a lot of people in the community they are low income,” Rosado said.
It’s another reason Rosado said this bill is so important to her and so many others who just want to feel a sense of freedom.
Oliveira said the bill was passed by the Consumer Protection Committee and is now in the Mass. Senate Ways and Means Committee. He hopes it will pass before the end of formalized session at the end of July.
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