The rise of crowdfunding

Disability can be expensive, which is why crowdfunding is on the rise.

Self-funding through online sites for electric wheelchairs or other aids has increased significantly in recent years due to cuts in the NHS, but is crowdfunding working? The world wide web is a wonderful invention bringing people from every corner of the world together. Now, it is a helping hand for the disabled community.

As government cuts affect benefits, the health system, and support for disabled people dwindles, the internet is stepping in. Without a doubt, the rise of crowdfunding has increased tenfold in recent years. Scrolling through sites such as Kickstarter and JustGiving you will see people asking for support to go on holiday or pay for a house deposit.

There is also an increase of those in real need asking for help to purchase specialist equipment, such as electric wheelchairs.

RISING COSTS

Many wheelchair users will be provided with a free chair from the NHS, but this is a standard chair that may not be suitable for various conditions or impairments. Lauren West, trailblazers manager at Muscular Dystrophy UK says“The wrong wheelchair can cause pain, leading to physical deterioration and, sometimes, the inability for the user to leave the house,” continues Lauren.

“Wheelchairs are incredibly individualised and there is no one size fits all solution. The correct wheelchair can enable someone to work, socialise, participate in family life and so on. Everyone deserves to have access to the right wheelchair.”

The starting price for an electric wheelchair is £1,500 – before adaptations are made to suit individual needs. For someone who requires the use of a wheelchair, being restricted to using unsuitable equipment can have detrimental effects.

“A wheelchair is the equivalent of a non-disabled person’s legs; it can either hinder or facilitate someone’s life,” adds Lauren, and using the wrong chair can lead to isolation due to not being able to leave the house.

Assessments made through the NHS’s Wheelchair Services (www.nhs.uk), although a national scheme, happen on a local level and it all comes down to a postcode lottery. This can be a challenging and difficult time for those in need of a chair that can provide them with a sense of freedom and independence.

HELPING HANDS

Actress and disability activist, Samantha Renke – who has osteogenesis imperfecta (OI), more commonly known as brittle bone condition – recently had to self-fund for an electric wheelchair. It is no secret that London is not the most accessible place in the world and Samantha felt an electric wheelchair would be more beneficial to support her independence when living in the city.

After a routine assessment to inquire about getting an electric wheelchair Samantha was refused support. “I was asked if I could still push myself in my manual wheelchair within my flat and I agreed, however I do have brittle bones so if I fracture then no. Obviously, for them, because I’m not fracturing all the time then I wasn’t eligible. As I suffer from depression and anxiety this was a knock to my confidence,” explains Samantha.

Encouraged to start crowdfunding for her new chair by family, Samantha admits: “If it wasn’t for my cousins suggesting to self-fund I would never have gone down that road. I would have felt too ashamed and embarrassed to do it myself.”

Many disabled people may feel the same as Samantha, like their essential needs are being overlooked due to a failing system and crowdfunding is the only option. Not only do people have to take the cost of their chair into consideration, adaptations will lead to increased prices and more stress.

MODIFICATIONS

Comfort in daily life is key and using the relevant equipment to make day to day tasks easier is essential. From the right pair of glasses, hearing aid or mobility aid, we all have daily support so it is important for people to have a chair, or other required specialist equipment, to be adequately modified.

Lauren says: “A wheelchair that has tilt or recline functions can help a person to stretch. Another example would be a wheelchair’s riser function. Some people with muscular dystrophy will struggle to raise their arms up, so a chair that raises will help them to reach things. Functions like these are often not seen as essential by the NHS.”

Such additional modifications can result in more costs for purchasing an electric wheelchair. Samantha has experienced this, too. After requesting an alternate fabric on her chair Samantha was quoted an additional £200 charge.

She explains: “A lot of people need bespoke chairs and I always equate it to having a sports car like a Lamborghini, because it is so sought-after. Companies can just decide how much to charge. That needs to be looked at. I’m not an engineer and I don’t know production costs but for me on one example, I wanted a different fabric on my chair and for the leather it would have been £200. I went to the market and got some leather for £4 and my friend sowed it on.”

Crowdfunding is not a definitive answer to the demand for specialised equipment as more people begin to feel the harsh reality of cuts. Although Samantha did raise money relatively quickly there is now a pot of money waiting to be released when she gets the chair that works for her, which takes time.

Unlike raising money to start a business or fund a holiday, self-funding for specialist equipment to improve quality of life is a major problem within the UK. It is hard to see those in need turning to the community for support because cuts have resulted in a government unable to support their people. Clearly, more needs to be done.

Scope can provide advice on grants and funding available for specialised equipment. Simply visit www.scope.org.uk or call 0808 800 3333

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