Don’t get “stuck” when you buy disability-related products

“I don’t think I will ever go in it again.”
–Eva McCracken, who campaigned successfully for a wheelchair lift at her local railway station, after it malfunctioned
-via Inclusion News Daily

For anyone wondering how such a thing could happen, I suggest you talk to a person with a disability – or the parent or family member of one.

We’ve all been there. We research the technology or assistive devices we need. We consult with OT’s, PT’s, doctors, other people with disabilities, perhaps architects and others. We find various forms of funding, save our own money, and put in applications to insurance. In the end we receive a product that is supposed to help us do what we need and want to.

And sometimes, even after all of that planning, things go awry. We might get a lemon. The design might be wrong. The product may be sound, but won’t work properly where it’s placed. Or, worse yet, we got bad advice from experts who simply don’t know enough about what they still consider a “niche” area – disability accommodations, access and technology.

After spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars, we may find ourselves owning a product that doesn’t fit our needs despite careful planning. There isn’t a ‘second bite’ at the apple with this. A custom made wheelchair that doesn’t fit your needs or a computer that lacks the technology you need although it was designed for you is a disaster to those who need these devices. And, in the case of the example above, a loss of confidence in the reliability of the product purchased can result in its disuse. Getting “stuck” literally on a lift can translate to getting stuck with a product!

So what can we do? First, know your rights as a consumer. Check out the available warranties – and return policy, if any – of the products you order, especially online. If you purchase through a dealer, check out their reputation through your network. Has anyone else bought a product through them? Is their service reasonably fast and consistent? Are they knowledgeable about the products they sell?

The same is true of any experts you may hire or consult. Not all architects, contractors or even medical folks are equal. Those who are “in the know” about what to buy and how to set up and fit products earn a good reputation – and a well deserved one. Word of mouth is especially important here. Networking through organizations can be of help here.

If you’re buying a custom product, make sure that your measurements are given to the dealer accurately. The same is true of the options you choose. Play an active, not passive, role in this process. Products that are custom built for you place an extra burden on you to be careful since you cannot return them if they are delivered to you with the specs you ordered. Mistakes on your part can leave you with a product that might be useless. If, however, a dealer makes an error in ordering with the specs you gave them, then you have rights. This means that examining the product upon delivery is crucial to make sure it’s in accordance with the specs you provided.

Finally, research the product that is recommended to you. Before you buy it, consider its track record for other consumers by doing some reading on the internet and talking to others. You’re not the only person buying the product (although it may feel like it). True, these products have a smaller market but it’s a market nonetheless. The “buzz” is out there if you do enough footwork. This may not be the time to save money, as tempting as it is, on a product that has a shorter warranty. Remember that if the manufacturer lacks enough confidence to give a warranty on the product, chances are you should pay attention to that as a buying point – and put it in the negative column.

None of these suggestions can guarantee that you won’t get “stuck” – but working with experienced people and purchasing reputable products with a good warranty go a long way toward preventing it.

Copyright 2007 Ruth Harrigan

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