Let’s talk disability equipment, and how costly it can be

Whether it’s personal mobility equipment, vehicle adaptations, hearing aids, speech recognition software or home monitoring systems, we live in an age where technology is providing more opportunities for those of us with disabilities to participate more widely then ever before.

The tech may be very specialised, and often the innovation doesn’t create the same financial reward that more mainstream products can command. As a result, the price can have way more noughts on the end than you would expect.

It can be hard to find the money to buy most of these products. There is a lot of kit that would have a significant impact on my everyday life, be it through improvements to access or health and well-being, but which are prohibitively expensive.

When considering how to spend my hard-earned cash, I have to go through a complex cost/benefit analysis for every piece of new equipment, and that can be frustrating. However, it’s nowhere near as frustrating as when you visit an equipment supplier’s website and almost inevitably discover two things. Firstly, prices on ‘big ticket’ items are impossible to find and you have to call for a quote. In the very rare event that there is a value, it’s usually a base price. I recently came across a company advertising a base price for a wheelchair that didn’t include wheels. I’m no expert on advertising standards, but isn’t that just a chair?

The other frustration is finding everyday items that are priced with the disability premium. This was the reason why I changed to 25” wheels on my wheelchair some time ago. Instantly, I had a much wider choice of tyres to choose from and suppliers who offered them. As a former avid cyclist, I also knew what tyres and inner tubes should cost, and I was appalled to find the same items doubled in price when sold through some companies that specialised in mobility equipment.

I understand that running a business can be tough, especially if your customer base is relatively small. But reputation counts for a lot, and word of mouth is usually the way that I decide where to spend my money. If we want to see improvements in the cost and quality of vital equipment, then I urge you to do the same.

Most importantly of all, if someone gives you good service or a great price, share your experience. Tell your friends. Be a loyal customer. The best way to create change is to reward those who get it right.

Words by Tim Rushby-Smith. His book Looking Up is published by Virgin Books.

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