Vancouver woman facing wheelchair nightmare


Tessa Schmidt's been without a reliable wheelchair for over 2 years


BC Disability

March 24th, 2022


The ordeal of Vancouver's Tessa Schmidt raises serious questions about the quality of medical equipment provided by the government, as well as the lengthy waits for essential devices.


Imagine that you're in a crosswalk, a public bathroom, or the middle of a busy sidewalk, and suddenly you're unable to move. It happens throughout the day, without warning, and when you try to get the problem resolved you just get told to keep waiting.


For a Vancouver woman, this has become reality.


Tessa Schmidt, who has cerebral palsy and relies on a power wheelchair to get around, has been without a reliable powerchair for over 2 years.


Tessa's powerchair was issued by the provincial government, which provides a new wheelchair once every 5 years.


While she had problems with her previous wheelchairs, she assumed it was because they'd grown old and worn out. She therefore expected things to go more smoothly once she got her new powerchair.


But she was wrong.


From the start, her newest wheelchair malfunctioned constantly. Its wheels fell off, it broke down in the middle of bathrooms, and left her stranded in dangerous places.


"This one had all sorts of problems from day 1, stopping in the middle of streets, stopping in crosswalks and on the bus." It's also left Tessa struggling to continue her work as a service dog trainer with Leash of Hope, an organization she cofounded.

"When training service dogs, having my chair stall out isn't the most efficient way of working with a client. I'm losing days of work and I can't afford that."


Tessa's work as a service dog trainer has been disrupted by the ordeal

While a backup wheelchair was provided by the government, it's a manual chair which Tessa's unable to operate herself due to mobility limitations, making it useless to her.

With Tessa unable to work and travel within the community, she's become increasingly confined to her house, and deprived of even the most basic human functions. "I'm in the chair at least 18 hours a day and need it for transfers, so when it doesn't work and I have no backup, I'm stuck holding my bladder."


Although Tessa's appealed to the government for repairs and a new powerchair, responses have been slow. The review process can take months and there's no guarantee that her requests will be approved.


If her application's denied, she also faces an appeal process that can then drag on longer, leaving her without a working powerchair the entire time.


And even if she receives a new chair, the track records of her previous ones are hardly reassuring, raising questions about the quality of the devices provided by the provincial government.


The wait and uncertainty have left Tessa frustrated and anxious as she struggles to function day-to-day without an essential device.


"This shouldn't be a discussion. There shouldn't be arguments and appeals, or all these technicalities and waits. It's something I need now."


What Tessa wants is simple: a new power wheelchair that's reliable and doesn't take months or years to get.


And there's one more thing.

"I want to challenge the people who design these long processes to duct tape themselves into a chair for 12 hours, unable to make any transfers or moves, and then see how they feel."


"I'm not the only one experiencing this. I've got friends who are more dependent than me facing the same thing, and it needs to stop."

 

Spencer van Vloten is the editor of BC Disability. To get in touch, send an email to spencer@bcdisability.com!