Why I don’t have a wheelchair, and it’s not what you think

October 23, 2014

The other day I wrote about the freedom of a wheelchair. I wrote about how using wheelchairs allowed me to travel last weekend when I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to, and they also let me get out of the hotel room and have a little bit of fun. But last weekend wasn’t the first time I used a wheelchair, and I doubt it will be the last. So why don’t I have one of my own?

For a long time I didn’t need a wheelchair. It was rare that I had trouble walking, and when I did, I could usually manage to “power through.” As the pain and disability got worse, I occasionally had a friend push me in a chair at the mall, or use a chair in an airport. It wasn’t often, but I did it. But I told myself those were aberrations. I was feeling stubborn. I didn’t want to need a wheelchair.

More recently, as I found myself telling people more often that “I can’t leave my apartment” or “I can’t walk” I realized that the real limitation wasn’t my ability to walk, but my inability to find an alternative. Due to joint pain and instability in my wrists, I can’t use a cane, crutches, or a walker. I can’t use my hands to lean on anything. So when the pain in my feet or knees is especially bad, I’m stuck. I spend days at a time sitting on the couch or lying in bed, and hobbling to the bathroom or kitchen only when I truly have to. I can’t leave my apartment because it involves too much walking. The stubbornness has dissolved as I have been become a prisoner in my own home. But what if I could leave without walking?

Most of my friends think I don’t have a wheelchair because I don’t need one. Some others think it’s because I refuse to use one. They’re both wrong. The reason is sadly simple: money. I can’t afford it.

Let’s say I get a low-end electric wheelchair for $1500. That’s a lot of money, especially for something I wouldn’t use every 20120809_220808day, but I think it would be worth it and I could manage to pay for it. Unfortunately, that’s not the only cost. There are many accessories I’m sure I’ll need, even though I don’t know yet what they are (if you do know, please list them in the comments! I’m trying to get an accurate idea, in case I end up doing this at some point.) And I’m guessing there would be repairs and maintenance or the chair.

Now how will get that chair around? I need a van. Let’s forget for a moment about the extra cost for gas on a minivan (I drive a compact car now.) And let’s ignore the extra money for repairs, since I’d have to get a much older car, with many more miles, than what I have now. Let’s just look at the cost of the van itself. After trading in my current car, I’d probably spend about $20,000 for a used wheelchair van.

So that’s $21,500. That’s a lot of money! And as if that weren’t enough, I need to be able to get to the van. Right now, on the bad days, I can’t walk down the long hall from my apartment to the front of my building, or down the walkway from the front door to the sidewalk. And then my car could be parked a couple blocks away. I should really live in an accessible apartment. Those are incredibly hard to find in the Boston area. These are old buildings. The last time I lived in a place that was built post-1930 was 4 apartments and a dozen years ago when I lived on the west coast. In fact, I’ve only ever lived in 2 accessible apartments. 1 was that apartment on the west coast and the other was a place that I lived in for 1 semester in college. That’s it. Everyplace else has had stairs. Newer buildings are accessible. Newer building are also expensive. Not only would I be paying moving costs, but my rent would go through the roof. This is just not an option. More likely, I would need to move to another inaccessible apartment that involved less walking to get to my car. It would need to have parking, though, so my car would be closer. Chances are, I’d be paying my same rent or more. Probably more.

Still, let’s say I could move with just slightly higher rent, plus moving costs, plus the van, and the wheelchair itself. We’re talking approximately $24,000 for a wheelchair that would be incredibly helpful about 10 times per year. (Each time varies between a few hours or a couple weeks.) This just doesn’t make sense.

So for those who’ve wondered why I don’t have a wheelchair, even though there are obviously days that it would be incredibly helpful, that’s why. It’s about the money. Plain and simple. It sucks, but it’s the reality.

Have you had to give up using a wheelchair or other mobility aide because of cost? What’s your experience with wheelchair use? Are my numbers off in any way? Please comment and share your story!


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