A broken chair in a broken system can leave you in a dangerous spot

I have a quick update regarding last week’s article. Last week, I wrote about a friend being stranded at the hospital because Para Transpo initially refused to pick her up, and Westway Taxi never showed up.

A person from OC Transpo reached out to them to apologize and mentioned that the call-takers would be retrained on how to handle a similar situation in the future better.

I’m hopeful that will be the case.

This week, I have another story involving a friend getting stranded, but differently.

On Friday, June 17th, my friend was heading to work at TD Place. The RedBlacks had their home opener against Winnipeg. As it got closer to game time, clouds began rolling in. He figured he’d make it to work before the rain started.

Sadly, he didn’t make it.

While he was on his way, a downpour hit. I can tell you from my experience that powered wheelchairs and rain don’t go well together.

Shortly after he arrived at TD Place, his chair stopped working. One of his co-workers helped him out for the rest of his shift, including pushing his wheelchair.

At some point during his shift, he called Para Transpo, and they were able to bring him home. I should point out that Para Transpo wasn’t obligated to pick him up since he chose to roll to work. As I mentioned last week, Para Transpo MUST pick you up if they drop you off at your destination.

When my friend returned to his apartment building, he needed to be manually pushed up to his place. Fortunately for him, his partner was spending a few days with him. So, when my friend arrived, his partner pushed his wheelchair into the elevator and to his apartment.

On Saturday, his chair still wasn’t working. So, he called the number for emergency repair and told the call-taker that his chair had broken down and he couldn’t move. After numerous messages, nobody called him back.

Now, I will point out that my friend was home and relatively safe. However, what if he wasn’t?

He could’ve easily been stranded outside on his way to work, which can quickly become a dangerous situation. The whole point of having an emergency repair service is to help those when their mobility device or medical equipment stops working.

For drivers, there’s CAA and emergency towing services. They exist to assist drivers when their vehicle breaks down. For many PWD, their wheelchair is everything to them. Besides transportation, some PWD can’t do anything when they’re lying down. A wheelchair and other mobility devices allow the person to be independent, even at home. For us, wheelchairs mean more to us than cars. If a person’s car breaks down, they can still get out of bed, go to their kitchen or bathroom and help themselves.

So why isn’t there a similar service like CAA to reliably assist with roadside repairs for PWD?

My answer is that there aren’t enough wheelchair tech companies that care about their customers.

I hate to generalize, but all or most wheelchair tech companies' staff and higher-ups are able-bodied. Therefore, there’s often a lack of understanding and compassion when addressing the needs of people with disabilities.

There are exceptions in some cases, but it seems few and far between.

At the very least, a repair person should have called back.

Now, back to the story.

Fortunately for him, his partner stayed with him, so he wasn’t alone. With her assistance, he was able to be pushed around his apartment the next day. My friend’s partner is also a PWD but can walk for short periods. Along with her physical disabilities, she also often experiences chronic pain regularly.

First of all, kudos to them for getting through the situation. I think it’s a true testament to their relationship. When I found out, I was shocked.

Sadly, I wasn’t shocked that the repair person didn’t return the call. I was shocked that my friend’s partner, who’s a PWD and has chronic pain, was able to push his almost 300-pound chair.

It shouldn’t be up to a loved one or caregiver to push powered chairs. We have powered chairs for a reason. We have them to get us places and be independent.

There is some good news in this story.

On Sunday, his chair started working again. We guessed that his chair needed time to dry out.

On Thursday, the repair person finally showed up. Since the chair was working, the official cause remains a mystery.

The system is broken when it comes to wheelchairs. As some of you know, I’ve been waiting two years to get my new chair. After several physically and mentally gruelling appointments, I still have a long way to go.

In case you’re wondering, I’m dealing with the same company as my friend is. For the time being, I’m not mentioning the company's name.

If you know, you know.

Before I roll on out, I just want to say that this is my 100th article for Ottawa Life Magazine. Thank you, OLM, for giving me a space to discuss the daily challenges that people with disabilities face.

Also, thank you, readers. I appreciate all of your support.

Photo: iStock