If you use a wheelchair, as 30 percent of our members do, you know how important it is to have your equipment in tiptop shape. That’s why ICS took action early on in the life of our agency, creating the only comprehensive, community-based wheelchair evaluation, repair and maintenance program in NYC.
Our Program, which operates in both our Bronx and Brooklyn offices, features skilled technicians, vans that deliver repair services to our members’ homes, and in each location, a dedicated repair shop, wheelchair “car wash” and weekly wheelchair maintenance workshop for our members. We provide evaluations by occupational and physical therapists who make sure that each member gets the best possible chair and that it is customized to meet his or her needs.
Because we are constantly looking for ways to help people with disabilities remain independent, and, as Viannette Oquendo, ICS Manager for Wheelchair Repairs, says, “proper maintenance” is key “to getting through the day safely,” on March 11, our wheelchair experts held a tune-up event for the public. The ICS wheelchair service team headed for Morrisania Diagnostic & Treatment Center in the Bronx, where they presented two educational sessions attended by over two dozen wheelchair users and caregivers.
Each session included a short talk in English and Spanish highlighting what to look for in maintaining manual and electric chairs. Then team members answered participants’ questions and held individual consultations. Everyone who attended also received the ICS Wheelchair Maintenance Tip Sheet.
What every wheelchair user needs to know
ICS Wheelchair Technician Ellsworth Mitchell kicked off each session with an overview of what to look for, beginning with manual chairs. “Every wheelchair user needs an understanding of the basics. Things to monitor are that your upholstery and arm pads are in the proper place and secure, that your tires are not worn, that your brakes work smoothly, that stationary leg rests are securely in place and that moving leg rests swing out fully.”
Ellsworth stressed the importance of routine observation. Pointing to a loose nut on the side of one chair he said, “Something like this is very dangerous. It could lead to the drive-wheel falling off, so it’s important to notice any changes in the chair or when something is loose and attend to it without delay.”
ICS Rehabilitation Service Coordinator James Abreu noted that “Power chairs have their own potential problems, especially during a winter like this one, with a lot of snow and rain.”
Viannette elaborated, “You don’t know when a power chair that is exposed to bad weather is going to conk out on you. Yes, the weather shouldn’t stop you from going about your life, but you need to protect yourself by protecting your chair. Take a plastic bag and put it over the vulnerable parts. They sell pretty rain covers for wheelchairs, but those are not necessary. Take a shopping bag from any drugstore or supermarket and cover the places on your chair where electronics can get wet, and you’re good to go. Some people have the tilt systems in the back and they cover those. Of course if there is a big downpour, and you’re going through giant puddles, everything – water, salt, dirt – it’s all splashing up. The battery casing is sealed, but the outlets and other electrical components are exposed, so it’s important to avoid big puddles; small puddles are okay.”
In addition, one participant pointed out that black ice poses a special risk for wheelchair users. “When a wheelchair hits black ice, it’s similar to a car hitting black ice – it can cause uncontrollable sliding and make it difficult or impossible to stop.”
James, who runs ICS’s weekly maintenance workshops in the Bronx, explained the process of diagnosing a problem. “When you come into the shop, we have the tools to examine and analyze your situation so that you know what is wrong with your chair, and what needs to be changed.”
A session attendee named Jerry volunteered to model how this assessment works. Jerry was having several problems including unexplained jumping of his power chair, and battery strain while going uphill. Consulting with Ellsworth and James, problems were diagnosed with the tires, battery and motor of Jerry’s chair.
“Sometimes a chair comes into our workshop that needs something major, like a new battery, which can take a month or more for the manufacturer to provide,” James said. “Of course, you can’t go without your chair for a month so when that happens, when we can, ICS offers members a ‘loaner’ chair.’”
“Like Mercedes Benz, they give you a courtesy car if yours is in the shop,” a woman attending the session interjected, to laughter.
More events planned with Morrisania
Morrisania Diagnostic & Treatment Center is a vital primary health care provider to residents of the South Bronx. The center, which is part of New York City’s Health and Hospitals Corporation network, has been a great partner with ICS—as there has been collaborating on multiple fronts with ICS’s Health Access Program for Women with Physical Disabilities. Now, the center has effectively worked with our wheelchair program
Deborah Mabry, Morrisania’s Associate Executive Director, told attendees, “We’re happy to host this event because we know that your wheelchairs are essential to everyday life and our friends at ICS are the experts on wheelchair maintenance.” Sonia Rodriguez, Assistant Director for Administration, was critical in planning the event. She also attended both sessions, helping to make sure that they ran smoothly and offering English-Spanish translation.
Tuesday’s event was the first of four community education programs planned in collaboration with Morrisania this year. All events will be open to the public and conducted in both Spanish and English. The next program will focus on managed long-term care (MLTC). It will provide the opportunity to learn exactly how MLTC works and offer anyone who attends the chance to consult privately with an ICS representative who can answer their individual questions. Two sessions later this year will focus on prevention and management of chronic health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol.