By Lucia Rios, Guest Blogger

Someone resting feet up on an empty wheelchairOne of the most important pieces of assistive technology in my life is the manual wheelchair. It’s the accessory I never leave home without. Wheels enable my independence. Wheeling gives me confidence. Not only has my wheelchair been customized to fit me, but each ding, scratch and tear tells a deeper story of its use.

I use my wheelchair 365 days a year. I use my wheelchair from the moment I wake up until the time comes for sleep. That’s a lot of time!

Yet my wheelchair is not just an object to get me from one place to another, it’s part of my world and loved.  Just like a car, a manual wheelchair can only take so much. I think a wheelchair undergoes more abuse than a car because the demands of its use are constant. And yet it’s like owning a car – you’ve got to keep it running.

I must admit that I’m totally clueless when it comes to maintaining a car, which is why I use a mechanic. You can ask for referrals from friends and there seem to be many options on places to take your car. However, I realized that durable medical equipment providers – such as Airway Oxygen and CareLink – are not always the easiest to connect with or affordable when on a budget.

Let’s be honest, it’s an expense to own a car and the same goes for maintaining a wheelchair. As I started to utilize my wheelchair more often I noticed the upkeep took time, money and problem solving.  I’m not one to keep my information to myself, so here are solutions I learned along the way.

Bike Shops

road bike hanging in repair shopTo be honest I didn’t think of this solution by myself.  While interacting with a new friend – who also uses a wheelchair – I told my woes about wheelchair maintenance. Having to make an appointment at the medical equipment provider, high costs, etc.  He asked if I thought about using a bike shop.  I hadn’t.  

So I started visiting bike shops.  I asked for help airing my tires, and inquired about buying tires for my chair.  The first pair I bought were under $30 and there was no service fee to put them on!  I was hooked.  I ditched the medical equipment venues and went to my local bike store for all my wheelchair maintenance needs.  

Tires, lights to use at night, tightening of spokes and unexpected flats – the bike store was my go to.  Better yet, I didn’t have to schedule an appointment!  With each request I was treated with dignity, charged a reasonable fee, and air was always free!           

Online Stores

When I was being fitted for a new wheelchair – which is exciting because at that point my wheelchair is on its last spin – I hear what insurance considers “extras”.  

  • Tires with better traction for snow – an extra $100 to upgrade.
  • Vibrant colors – insurance won’t cover your preferred choice so you’ll have an out-of-pocket expense.
  • A bag to hold personal items – sorry you’ll have to pay $50 for a standard black tote.
  • And the list goes on.  

Frustrated and looking for a cheaper solution I went online.  I was excited to see their were options for a wheelchair user that were not only affordable, but trendy.

Social Media

I’m a huge fan of social media, especially when it comes to spreading awareness about the disability experience.  Being able to use pictures to explain barriers that I face in my day-to-day life has been a great way to educate, but also challenge others to think of their environments.  Facebook has also been a go to when I’ve run into problems with flat tires, inaccessible venues and a quick way to ask for assistance!  

Once my tires went flat while I was at the store.  I typed a quick message on Facebook, asking if anyone knew of an open bike store – it was business service hours.  Within minutes I had offers to assist, website addresses to bike shops, and a person willing to pick me up!  I took up a friends offer and met him at the local brewery so he could patch up my tire.  He fixed it, bought me a beer and gave me my own small tire repair kit!  

So, I’m curious, what maintenance tips do you have for your AT?