Wheelchair Right to Repair Passes Colorado House

It still needs to move through the senate, but a bi-partisan bill that would let people fix their own wheelchairs has a good chance of becoming law.

State of Repair is Motherboard's exploration of DIY culture, device repair, ownership, and the forces fighting to lock down access to the things you own.

The Colorado state house has passed a bill that would let people who own wheelchairs repair them themselves. HB22-1031 passed with 44 votes in favor and 21 against. Now it will go to the Colorado senate for consideration.

HB22-1031, the Consumer Right to Repair Powered Wheelchairs, is a simple bill. “The bill requires a manufacturer to provide parts, embedded software, firmware, tools, or documentation, such as diagnostic, maintenance, or repair manuals, diagrams, or similar information, to independent repair providers and owners of the manufacturer's powered wheelchairs to allow an independent repair provider or owner to conduct diagnostic, maintenance, or repair services on the owner's powered wheelchair,” the Colorado legislature’s website explained. 

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“For too long, manufacturers and specialty repair providers have had a monopoly on repair,” state Rep. Brianna Titone, one of the bill’s sponsors, said in a statement. “This has stymied wheelchair users' ability to make fixes to their own chairs. “Delays in fixing wheelchairs is not merely an inconvenience. It could result in more damage to the chair or cause injuries to the chair user. People should have the freedom to be able to fix their own devices.”

Letting people fix their own wheelchairs without voiding their warranty seems like it should be the default position. But people across the country spend weeks and sometimes months waiting for simple repairs to their machines. The options are to fix it themselves and possibly lose access to more complicated repairs from the manufacturer, or to wait and often suffer until a repair person is available.

In testimony delivered at the Colorado state house regarding a similar failed bill last year, wheelchair users described long wait times and physical pain that occurs while waiting for basic repairs. In one instance, a man waited 60 days for a simple repair to his electric wheelchair.

In another story, the manufacturer voided the warranty of a wheelchair because it was repaired by a family friend of the owner. “This company left a friend and colleague for two weeks with a broken tilt, which is necessary to preserve skin integrity, with full knowledge that he has life threatening medical issues caused by pressure sores,” Julie Reskin, the executive director of the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, said at the time. “When they finally bothered to show up two weeks later, they failed to fix the problem.”

The Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition has collected this story and others in an 11 page document detailing the ways a lack of right to repair has hurt its constituents. One user had a flat tire that could have been replaced with a part from Amazon for $6. The wheelchair company wanted to replace both wheels at a cost of $300 to Medicaid and a 6 to 8 week wait time. There are dozens of stories like this.

Wheelchairs are an easy win for the right to repair, but the fight is far from over. "If it has a microchip in it, some manufacturer is going to try locking down the device against repair. We have had wheelchair repair advocates join our Right to Repair efforts since almost the beginning, but it's incredible to see how far this conversation has come,” Gay Gordon-Byrne, the executive director of Repair.org, said in a statement. “To me, it's just very compelling: I just don't see how anyone could oppose letting the owner of a wheelchair decide how to get their chair fixed. I’m excited to see how progress in Colorado can move our efforts forward across the nation."

The right to repair movement has gained ground  in the past two years. Laws similar to Colardo’s are working their way through state houses across the country. President Joe Biden has signed an executive order endorsing the right to repair, the FTC has issued guidance in support of the movement, and a national right to repair bill was filed in Congress last Summer.

Tagged:

COLORADO, wheelchair, State of Repair, Right to Repair

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