Technology is the best thing humans could ever invent. As a disabled person myself, I could not live without it. Well, I could, but it wouldn’t have been as easy as it is with it.
I have a lot of appliances and motorized aids that help me in my day to day life in every possible aspect. Some are specifically for people with a disability, others are mainstream products that lazy people can also use. I have two powered wheelchairs, one mobility scooter, bath lift, electric toothbrush, electric can opener, hands free vibrator (several) and planning to buy a motorized armchair and bed. All these products help me to live my life independently, but, as we all know, nothing lasts forever and they always need maintenance and repair every now and then.
I remember the first day I had them, trying them out, finding out the pros and cons of each product…mainly pros. When they break down, however, this is when the nightmare starts. I am not much bothered if a toothbrush or a vibrator breaks down - you can get a new one even with £20 - but when my wheelchair or my mobility scooter breaks down I am not so happy.
One of the two powered wheelchairs has been given to me by the NHS and that is the only one that really works well. I’ve had it since 2013, so three years, and has never broken down. I’m really happy with it. However, as much as it gives me freedom to go around easily, it also restricts me to only go in fully accessible places. I can still walk a little indoors, so to be able to have access to more venues I bought another powered wheelchair online from a Malaysian company. At first it was the best investment ever, but soon after I regretted it so much. This is a real frontline technology wheelchair, small, foldable, light (only 20 Kg) and powered. This was the first product this company created, which means it was a bit of a gamble. Even though it has been tested, I suspect probably not by wheelchair users for any length of time, so knew it could end in a big failure. And so it was! After only nine months after I purchased it, one of the motorized wheels broke and after two weeks the other one went the same way. Fortunately, it was still under warranty, so I got both wheels as part of the warranty agreement, but the problem I found here was that I had to fix it myself because the company being based in Malaysia, it does not have an assistance point here in the UK. You are probably thinking, well there are a lot of wheelchair repair shops that can do it. Well, I am afraid the answer is no! All those shops, and I called several, do not fix your wheelchair or scooter unless you bought it through them. Which I’m sure you’d agree sounds ridiculous. I was not asking anyone to repair it for free, I was happy to pay, but their excuse was always “we do not know the product and we may do not have the parts for it”. Well as far as I’m concerned, it has been made on planet earth, not on Mars! How can you not have the parts or at least get access to them? Anyway, in the end a bike shop helped me. On top of all that we also have to consider the time I was without use of the wheelchair, which is around four to five weeks. The process was: I emailed them; they asked me for a video; they checked the problem, sent me the parts; I then had to get someone to do the job. A lot of stress!
At this point you hope that now it will last forever, or at least a few years. For people like me who are not able to work and live on benefits, this is an especially big investment and you hope and wish that after you have spent a lot of money for a new wheelchair, you are going to be fine for a while. Bad news, guys, literally nine months later the same situation happened again and the warranty had expired by that point. It felt like a kind of malediction that appeared every nine months!
So, what now! To get the new parts I had to pay for them. And what if after nine months they broke again? So, I decided not to and only use my NHS one. But I lost my freedom I had with that chair. Therefore, I started to look on the internet for something similar, but made in the UK so I could get assistance and servicing if needed. I have found a few; they were not the same, but you can’t have everything, right. After some extensive research I decided to go for a mobility scooter, a very small, foldable and light one. That is what I needed! When the scooter got delivered I was like a kid when she gets her first bike!
In the meantime, I send a complaint email to the Malaysian company, who told me that they are going to make an exception and send me the new parts. Happy days! Well, now I have the new scooter. With two years warranty. And after four months it is already in need of maintenance. I’m starting to think I’m followed by the malediction! When it came back it was still the same; the problem was not solved, but in their view it works perfectly well. Unfortunately, not in mine! Never mind. After three months another problem came up and there you go again back to the shop for repair. This time they kept it for one month. At least I do not have to pay for it, but one month without it has been very difficult. Now you probably think this is like when your car needs repair and they give you a courtesy one instead. Well, if you want it you can have it, but not for free! Besides, you can get this service only from the UK company, not from the Malaysian one, with whom I ended up emailing back and forth until finally, after eight months, I received the promised new parts.
It feels like once you bought their product they do not care anymore. Even though they fixed it, they do this with anywhere near the same effort they put in when selling you the product in the first place. They produce and sell products that are vital for us and when they break after a few months it means those same products are not good for purpose and should be banned from the market. Why is it that the NHS one I have after three years has never had a problem, whereas the other two have been a nightmare right from the start. Besides, having to wait up to eight months, or even more, to get it fixed is absolutely outrageous. I am lucky that I have the NHS one, but what about those people who cannot get one from the NHS? They are completely lost without their chairs.
In the end I hope that it is only me being followed by this malediction, otherwise it would be really sad to know that all those companies out there are producing products that are complete failures right from the start.