© 2024
Local NPR for the Cape, Coast & Islands 90.1 91.1 94.3
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Seeking faster wheelchair repairs, CT advocates rally at Capitol

Christopher Nunez of Hartford was born with Spina Bifida and has been wheelchair bound since he was 6 years old. He joins other wheelchair users gathered at the Legislative Office Building to demand legislation that guarantees a reduction of wait times for in-home repair services. The current average wait time is approximately 1 month. February 15, 2024.
Dave Wurtzel
/
Connecticut Public
Christopher Nunez of Hartford was born with Spina Bifida and has been wheelchair bound since he was 6 years old. He joins other wheelchair users gathered at the Legislative Office Building to demand legislation that guarantees a reduction of wait times for in-home repair services. The current average wait time is approximately 1 month. February 15, 2024.

Connecticut wheelchair users are continuing to call on state lawmakers to take up legislation this session that would speed up wheelchair repair times for the thousands of people around the state.

Wheelchair users and advocates rallied at the Capitol Thursday asking for an enforceable time limit for repairs, among other reforms. Understaffed in-home repair services, along with insurance and supply chain issues all factor into the long wait some residents report surrounding assessments and repairs.

“Especially if something breaks, that would really hinder my independence to move around with my chair,” said Stephanie Marquez, one of the dozens of people asking that the state implement an enforceable time limit for wheelchair repairs. “Those wait times take forever. These are our legs,” she said.

Marquez was born with spina bifida and has used a wheelchair for 20 years. She said in the past she’s waited months for in-home repairs – a common thread for residents throughout Connecticut. A state Wheelchair Repair Task Force recently wrapped its work and recommended lawmakers require the process be sped up and completed within four business days.

“Which is comparable to what you can currently get going into the shop for repair,” said Jonathan Sigworth, a wheelchair user and CEO of the nonprofit More Than Walking. “For consumers to go into a shop, they have to travel up to an hour.”

The vast majority of residents seeking repairs prefer to use in-home services, the task force report shows. One reason is there are only a handful of in-person shops across the state – a challenge in and of itself.

At the rally, many speakers emphasized that repair wait times can last from months to years – unlike delays that someone would wait for repairs on a car.

Darrell Ruopp, a paraplegic and occupational therapist, does a lot of wheelchair repairs on his own. But he said that’s not an option for every consumer – and that it’s time for statewide change.

“Many individuals that use wheelchairs, they need to be able to work, they need to be able to go to pick up their supplies, take care of their family. And put someone in a delayed, damaged chair for way too long, it's just putting them in a risky situation,” he said.

Other recommendations by the task force include insurance coverage for preventative maintenance and repairs for and backup wheelchairs, in addition to eliminating the need for prior authorization by state-regulated insurance. They also suggested coverage for in-home technicians' travel, and consumers' transportation services for in-shop visits.

National Seating and Mobility and Numotion represented the industry during the state taskforce’s work. They agreed that they also want more timely repairs and agreed to nearly all the group’s recommendations – but pushed back against consumers’ top-line issue: making repair timelines the same for in-shop versus in-home.

“Such a requirement would give consumers the incentive to demand in-home repairs for all repairs and would further exacerbate the current situation,” as stated in the task force recommendations. “Why would you want to go to the service location when you can get the service in your home within the same period?”

A unanimous vote Thursday approved moving the wheelchair task force forward, state Human services committee co-chair Sen. Matt Lesser said at the rally. A public hearing is also planned for the issue during this year’s short legislative session.

“I’m looking forward to moving those recommendations along through the legislature process this year so we can finally get some action taken,” State Rep. Jillian Gilchrest, the committee co-chair said. “It’s far too long overdue and should have been addressed already.”

As Connecticut Public's state government reporter, Michayla Savitt focuses on how policy decisions directly impact the state’s communities and livelihoods. Michayla has been with Connecticut Public since February 2022, and before that she was a producer and host for audio news outlets around New York state. When not on deadline, Michayla is probably outside with her rescue dog, Elphie. Thoughts? Jokes? Tips? Email msavitt@ctpublic.org.