Many of those who have a physical disability have severe difficulties getting around without a wheelchair. Unfortunately, a lot of wheelchairs, especially electric and self-propelled models, can be very expensive and, as a result, are unaffordable. However, there are several ways you might qualify for help, so if you’re looking at how to get a wheelchair with a discount, or even for free, then be sure to read on.
First Steps – Who to Contact
The first step in trying to get hold of a wheelchair grant is to contact your local National Health Service or Social Services centre. These organisations are normally responsible for local wheelchair services across the UK, and should be the first point of contact when looking for children’s buggies or wheelchairs.
The severity of your disability will determine what happens next, and you may require a referral from a medical professional; a paediatrician, physiotherapist or occupational therapist, for example. Unfortunately, the waiting times for Wheelchair Services can be fairly long, and will vary depending on where you live.
Once invited for a meeting with Wheelchair Services, your disability will be assessed and a professional will discuss the type of wheelchair you need. These assessments are normally undertaken by an occupational therapist or even a wheelchair engineer if it’s expected that additional modifications to the equipment might be required. A number of details will be taken, including upper body strength, leg measurements and how able you are to transfer in and out of the chair.
There are a large variety of wheelchairs on offer, and the style and design you need will largely be determined by your disability. Because of the expense, it’s essential to purchase the correct one, and so it’s important to seek advice from healthcare professionals.
When buying a wheelchair, consider the various features including:
- Electric or manual
- Carer driven or self propelling
- Fixed frames vs. folding frames
- Quick release or fixed wheels
- Pneumatic or solid tyres
Unfortunately, you’ll probably have to make a few compromises depending on your financial circumstances or disability. If you’re in a wheelchair fulltime, for example, you shouldn’t expect the equipment to meet every demand.
Funding for a Wheelchair
One of the most commonly asked questions is ‘Can I get a wheelchair for free?’ In many cases the answer might be yes, but the process of receiving a grant can be long-winded. There are also several stipulations with grants to remember, and it is also unlikely you will be provided with free accessories for chairs, such as bags or rain covers.
In general, wheelchairs are only granted to individuals who have long-term mobility issues. Instead of simply being allocated a brand new piece of equipment, in most cases you will be awarded wheelchair vouchers, the value of which will fall in line with the severity of your disability. The vouchers are used to purchase a wheelchair privately, and many grant applications will ask whether vouchers have already been offered.
One of the advantages of being given vouchers is that you’re able to buy whatever you need, matching the right wheelchair with your needs. However, it’s essential to remember that you will be solely responsible for repair costs like worn out tyres or battery replacement. It is also extremely important to choose the right piece of equipment as you cannot return to the Wheelchair Services to get further funding for five years.
Buying a Wheelchair via a Charity
The cheapest and easiest way to buy a wheelchair if you’ve received vouchers is to contact one of the many charities that offer such services. Due to economic difficulties, few charities are able to fully fund a wheelchair themselves. In addition to the vouchers, many organisations will ask if you’re able to use some of your disability allowance to pay for the chair or, alternatively, do some fundraising.
Buying a wheelchair is a long-term investment, so you need to take your time and ensure you get it right. Charities will be able to help offer advice, as will healthcare professionals conducting the initial assessments. Organisations known to have offered wheelchair grants in the past include Aspire, Independence at Home and the Multiple Sclerosis Society. For a full list follow this link.
Renting a Wheelchair
Unfortunately, the process of being assessed and receiving vouchers can be time consuming. It means you might have to wait some time before actually owning a wheelchair. Therefore, renting a chair on a short-term basis is advisable. This is also a good option if your disability is only temporary or is likely to change, meaning that your demands from a wheelchair will vary over time. It’s also the perfect opportunity to road test a few models and work out what’s best for you.
Your first option is to ask the British Red Cross for help. This charity offers short-term loans of wheelchairs for up to 12 weeks free of charge. Meanwhile, many of the UK’s larger cities are part of a Shopmobility scheme which provides mobility scooters, electric wheelchairs and manual wheelchairs to be used for leisure and shopping activities. Again, these only come with a small charge at most. Under the Motability Scheme, you might also be able to lease a mobility scooter or powered wheelchair.
All in all, if you’re looking for a wheelchair, don’t be disheartened by the cost because there is help available. However, you should be prepared for quite a long wait until you’re able to receive a grant and, as such, should plan to rent equipment in the short-term, whether that’s privately or by using your disability benefits income.