Friday, April 18, 2014

A Weighty Issue: Power Wheelchairs vs Ramp and Lift Restrictions

I found a major flaw in the new Integrated Accessibility Act Regulations.  It doesn't specify load capacity on ramps or lifting devices for wheelchairs. Once more, how does one find out how much their individual mobility device weighs? Most wheelchairs have customized seating and other features to meet their individual needs. This means the weight of each mobility device can be vastly different.

This poses a problem for people who take public transit or need to depend on a ramp or a lifting device to enter a building, a transportation conveyance, or a different level in a building.

I just learned that the weight of my new power wheelchair, without me in it, is 405 pounds. The medical supplier said it weighed approximately 300 pounds. How can they underestimate the weight by more than 100 pounds?

I couldn't even guess there was that big a difference because my last wheelchair weighed 268 pounds and it was 26 inches wide by 32 inches long. My new wheelchair is 26 inches wide by 28 inches long. In other words, it looks smaller and more compact. It has customized seating, medically prescribed power tilt, and an elevating feature, which I bought because it substantially increases my level of independence. I had no way of knowing that the actuators, to power the tilt and elevating devices, would weigh that much more. I didn't even buy the optional lighting package and carrier basket that can go with this new chair, and I don't need a respirator holder or crutch holder. For the weigh-in, even my bag and the purse were removed, so I am shocked. I'll eventually be getting a new tray. This will, unfortunately, add to the weight.

Having this much extra weight is causing a major problem because ramps, lifting devices, and bridge plates into transportation conveyances and in buildings, have weight restrictions; some of which I now exceed.

For example, I've seen:
  • A bridge plate between a train and a platform that's rated for a maximum of 500 pounds. 
  • An inclined wheelchair platform lift, that travels over stairs, that's rated for a maximum of 495 pounds. 
  • A porch lift and lifts in commercial buildings (that must be operated by another person), that are rated at a maximum of 600 to 750 pounds. 
  • A ramp into the double-decker Megabus with a maximum weight restriction of 500 pounds.
  • Lifts into specialized transit vehicles that have a maximum capacity of 600 to 1,000 pounds, depending on the age of the vehicle and the choices that were made by the transit provider at the time of buying the vehicle.
The new Integrated Accessibility Act is supposed to promote independence but how can it if there are no stipulations to govern these things?

There are no government documents or publications which stipulate the minimum weight capacity for a public ramp and lift, or restrictions to the weight of a wheelchair. This means there is no way for a client to learn this important piece of information before buying a new wheelchair. It's impossible to make an informed choice; one that would proactively help one to avoid encountering new barriers.

I took the time to search through the building code and the highway traffic act because I wanted to see if I could find a stipulation about the weight restrictions of a mobility device, or for ramps and lifting devices designed to accommodate the mobility device. It appears there is nothing. The closest I could find was information about the Technical Standards and Safety Act, (of Elevating Devices).

When I was considering what brand of wheelchair to buy last Sept. I had a very simple shopping list. I said the wheelchair must be no wider than 26", it must have a small turning radius, it must travel at a decent speed indoors and outdoors, and it must not exceed the limits of the public transit services I must depend upon. I was able to control the width and length issue, but I was obviously not able to control the weight.

The reason given as to why the supplier couldn't give me an accurate answer on the weight of the chair before finalizing the order, was because each wheelchair is customized according to the prescription and the client's needs and/or wants. All these things will have an influence on final weight of the chair, I agree. But I still don't understand why the medical supplier doesn't have an obligation to weigh the final product and share that knowledge with the customer before a sale is finalized.

The only reason I was finally able to get the chair weighed is because the lifting equipment at one location was frequently breaking down with me on it.  No reasonable explanation for the failure could be found, so it was decided to make sure the weight I'd been given was accurate. If that lift didn't keep breaking down, I would still have no idea how often I was jeopardizing my safety, and that of others, by using these devices when the chair was that much over the weight restriction.

It was not easy to get the chair weighed because of liability concerns. The hospitals and nursing homes can no longer weigh someone who isn't an in-patient. However we finally managed to get help from KIMCO, a scrap metal yard. You can imagine my shock when I found out the supplier was underestimating the weight by more than 100 pounds! Can you imagine if I was flying somewhere and had been that far out with an airline?

Fortunately, I can still meet the weight restrictions of most devices. I can do this by removing the side panels, the headrest, my purse, and the bags off my chair.

On vertical lifts that are run by a key, I must insist that the operator runs it by turning the key from outside of the lift. If they stand inside the lift to run it, as many do, there is a high chance we'll be exceeding the weight restriction of the lift.  I've seen the weight restrictions in these lifts range from 600 pounds to 750 pounds.

The dilemma I face now is, now that I know I exceed the weight restrictions in some places, I must do without. Which is better - being oblivious and exceeding the weight restriction, or doing without by not pushing my luck, and that of others that could be operating one of these lifts.

The really annoying part is I had no idea I'd be blocking myself from so much by buying this chair. It's too late to return it and I'm now going to be stuck with it for at least 5 more years.

If I had been properly informed, believe me, I would have bought another model of chair or I would not have bought the seat elevating device. The elevating feature was optional. I bought it because I was sick and tired of not being able to reach things. I've lived in this so-called accessible apartment for 14 years and I've never been able to reach my kitchen cupboards. Now I can. In stores I can't reach things off shelves or access the PIN pads that are mounted too high and for standing people only. Now I can.

However, when the choice comes between reaching things and using a ramp or a lift, believe me, I can do without reaching things on my own. I can't do without the access to transit and/or buildings.  Now I'm really mad.

I will be addressing this oversight in the AODA Standards at the Mayo Moran Review. I'm also going to look into reducing the weight of this chair, and if necessary, go to small claims court.

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13 comments:

Unknown said...

Please correct me, but isn't it the combined weight of the passenger and chair that's relevant here? Could you lose weight to bring you under the lift limits that you're finding?

It's just an idea that came to me. I don't think it's just the wheelchair weight that goes into the different limits you're finding posted. You still have some control here.

wheelchairdemon said...

It depends which device we're using. If the chair weighs 405 pounds and the weight restriction on an inclined platform lift is 495 pounds, simple math would state one could weigh no more than 90 pounds.

If a lift is key operated and the rules are, it must be run by another person who stands inside the lift, then there is a problem. Key operated lifts have a capacity range of 600 - 750 pounds.

If the one with the key runs the lift from outside the lift, then there's no problem. Not everyone does that though.

As for my own personal weight, it's irrelevant in many of these cases.

This is a general story, not a personal one.

Unknown said...

I too am surprised that the Medical Equipment supplier couldn't give you the accurate weight of your completed power chair. Surely the manufacturer must include the weight of the basic model (before customization)in the list of specifications for the chair so that retailers can provide that information to customers upon request. And surely they must know the weight of each of the components that was added to your wheelchair to make it suitable for you. So why weren't they able to whip out a pocket calculator and just add the weight of the additional components to the weight of the Basic Model of the power wheelchair that was listed in the manufacturers specifications? If they are not familiar with the original manufacturers specifications, they should be. No retailer can be familiar with every product in the marketplace. But each retailer should at least be knowledgeable about the products that he or she is selling; so that he or she can help the customer make an informed decision about which model would best meet their needs. Perhaps you should consider working with a different medical equipment supplier in the future. Secondly; I thought that all elevators & wheelchair lifts in public buildings and on Public transit systems were required to have a minimum weight capacity of at least 1000 pounds. So I am surprised to discover that there is currently no minimum universal standard requirement for minimum weight capacity. I never thought to ask about the weight of my power wheelchair when I got it either. Since I weighed over 380 pounds when I got my power chair I was more concerned about it's weight capacity than how much IT weighed. Now I'm thinking that I should try to find out how much it weighs in light of this new information. And I'm thinking that maybe I should be fighting for some minimum standards to be included in Provincial & municipal building codes and public transit accessibility standards. I will definitely be paying more attention to the weight capacities of wheelchair lifts, ramps, and elevators from now on. 2175

Unknown said...

I don't quite understand here. I'm disabled myself, and need mobility assistance, but I understand it's my responsibility to comply with the different assistance devices and arrangements that are available to the public.

I understand the frustration that goes along with navigating in the real world. It's very hard for us.

wheelchairdemon said...

Elsie, it is our responsibility to some degree.

That's why I asked for the weight of my wheelchair BEFORE I bought it. The weight I was given by the supplier turned out to be 105 pounds lighter than it really is. The sales rep for Permobil didn't know the weight either. To underestimate the weight by that amount, is not only wrong, it's potentially dangerous.

To fully accommodate people with disabilities it is important to realize that people using mobility devices are wide and diverse. For this reason, if we're going to be an effective advocate, we can't make this stuff personal.

Thankfully I can still use the ramps and lifts, but just barely. What about others, who may find this kind of hidden surprise, inadvertently and completely takes away their level of independence? This is serious.

Each person varies in their level of ability, educational background, level of supports, and in some cases, their level of cognition. Some people are overweight, some are underweight, some are new to a chair, and others know what to ask for because they've had years of experience. Some have spinal cord injuries, MS (Multiple Sclerosis), CP (Cerebral Palsy), MD (Muscular Dystrophy), have lost a limb, had a stroke, or... and the list goes on.

If you read the ADP (Assistive Devices Program) Manual, you'll also see the Authorizer (usually an Occupational Therapist) and the Vendor (in this case Shopper's Home Health Care) and the Manufacturer, in this case Permobil, have a duty to fully inform the person about the features of the wheelchair they're buying. No one knew the answer about the weight of this chair. This means we, the client, aren't being fully informed.

If we view it another way, how many transportation providers, businesses, and buildings with these ramps, bridge plates, and lifts, know or publish what the weight restrictions of are on site or online?

For those who say I should have looked up the weight of the chair myself, I challenge you. Look up the weight of your mobility device, especially if it's prescribed and has customized seating to meet the needs of the user. If you look, your outcome will likely be similar to my mine.

My brand of chair is a Permobil M300. If you go online to http://www.permobilus.com/m300.php, you'll see the manufacturer talks about the weight restrictions of the USER buying the wheelchair, not the weight of the mobility device itself. What's more shocking is, some of the weights named at well over 300 pounds. If the weight of the user is that much and then combined with a very heavy mobility device, then the problem is even more serious.

For those who have recommended I buy from another vendor, my wheelchair falls into the category of the Central Equipment Pool. The Ministry of Health in Ontario has awarded the contract to Shopper's Home Health Care so I can't choose to buy from someone else. To read more, visit: http://www.health.gov.on.ca/en/pro/programs/adp/memos/docs/CEP_wheelchair_20120301.pdf

The goal of this Blog is to educate PEOPLE about potential barriers so both the user and the one accommodating them, can better understand how to improve accessibility as per the AODA that's supposed to make Ontario fully accessible by 2025.

wheelchairdemon said...

Ann,

Thank you for your comment. It's for people like you that I write this Blog.

I don't think the general public stops to think about how issues, such as this, may affect people other than themselves.

Thank you for posting.

Anonymous said...

thanx, this is very Informational Post to Read now I am Waiting for your next post
Medical Equipments

Unknown said...

Weight of a wheel chair is that much important?

Unknown said...

The weight of a wheel chair is more important while choosing. My brother is using wheel chair since so many years. I bought it online from clickoncare.com. They are clearly mentioned about the weight of each wheel chair.

Panther Will said...

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Unknown said...

I totally agree that it isn't combined weight of the passanger and the chair (relevant in vertical platform lifts?). I don't think it's just the wheelchair weight that goes into the different limits. You still have some control here.

wheelchairdemon said...

I wasn't going to publish the comments that were turned into a personal attacks on me as an individual, but I decided to go ahead because, you know what, I pity you.

If my wheelchair had the other two actuators attached; one to raise the legs and one to recline the back, plus a respirator (which some people need), the chair would weigh more than 495 pounds. The lift would still not be suitable because the extra hardware would easily put the weight over the limit.

There are tons of reasons why people who use a wheelchair may have a weight issue. Lack of exercise facilities was my biggest barrier. On moving to another city I've been able to lose 20 pounds because I now have access.

Some people simply can't lose weight.

Others are on medications that cause weight gain.

Still others must rely on others to cook their meals because their disability renders them fully unable to cook for themselves.

Please folks, don't judge a book by its cover. It's not nice and it's most definitely not necessary.

wheelchairdemon said...

Sadly, when one has CEP (Central Equipment Pool) seating, it is mandatory to buy the chair from Shopper's Home Health Care.

That location was not doing their job. Problems were reported, apparently by many (including me) and I understand now, action was taken. Several people lost their jobs and the Home Health Care section of Shoppers was moved to a completely different city.

I've since moved so I have no idea if things are functioning better now. I sure hope so.

People deserve efficient service, safety (I.e. Knowing the weight) and correct answers to all their other questions.