Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Traveling in (Disguised) Style: Accessible Vehicle 411 -- Part I

Think of your dream car. What is it worth? Maybe $50,000.00, $60,000.00, or maybe even $70,000.00? Now imagine that you go to purchase this dream car and instead of that car, it is a minivan; a minivan that costs $60,000.00. This is what many people face when they wish to purchase an accessible vehicle.

The average accessible car tends to be $20,000.00 to $40,000.00 more than their non-accessible counterpart. On average, a new 2016 Honda Odyssey is going for $30,000.00, where an accessible 2016 Honda Odyssey is going for $66,000.00. This is almost the equivalent cost of a new Jaguar or Porsche! A new 2016 Dodge Grand Caravan rings up at about $26,000.00, while the modified version costs $45,000.00. This is about the same price as a new Audi.

Over the years, the types of cars converted has drastically increased which has broadened the choice available to the consumer. First there were the large passenger vans, then the minivans came onto the market. Now there are accessible cars that range from as small as the Kia Soul to as large as a Ford truck. There is even an SUV that is now on the market that is specifically designed as an accessible vehicle (no conversion needed): the MV-1. This new array of accessible cars has made it possible for the consumer to not have to sacrifice as much as their choice for accessibility.

As the types of accessible vehicles have increased, the ability to afford an accessible vehicle has increased as well; cars that cost less than a minivan before the conversion typically still cost less after the conversion. There is also the factor that more fuel efficient cars are also being made accessible which translates into a lower gas expense. However, this does not mean that there is a "cheap" accessible car; this is quite the contrary.

Vans are no longer the only type of accessible vehicles that cost twice as much as the regular counterpart. A new 2016 Kia Soul costs about $18,000.00, while the new 2016 accessible Kia Soul is $30,000.00. Yes, this is way less than a Honda Odyssey or even a Dodge Grand Caravan, not to mention the gas mileage, but there are the drawbacks of minimal seating and the fact that the consumer still has to spend almost twice as much for the same exact car.

The MV-1 is a little more expensive than the Kia Soul and as of now there are not any used MV-1s (it has not been on the market long enough for there to be any used cars). This SUV, has been designed as an accessible vehicle; it does not have a regular counterpart. The MV-1 costs about $31,000.00. This is also way cheaper than a minivan (with a similar number of seats and gas mileage). The MV-1 also has the perk of not being a converted vehicle; this means that the integrity of the vehicle is not diminished due to cutting the frame. When it comes to accessible vehicles, the MV-1 is relatively well priced, but to the average American household, $31,000.00 is still a pretty steep price for a car.

When purchasing an accessible vehicle, used is an option. However, why should the average consumer be forced to buy used when they could theoretically afford a new car? The consumer is forced to buy used simply because they cannot physically access a new -- but cheaper -- typical car. This means that when a person who is simply seeking mobility cannot afford a new converted car, they are stuck buying a used one (for typically the same price as a new non-converted car).

The ridiculous pricing of accessible vehicles does not end with the price itself, but continues with the financing. There are car loans, and then there are accessible loans; the loans that the bank gives out when they do not understand the cost of the car that the loan is for. Back in 2006 when my family purchased a used 2005 Dodge Grand Caravan, the cost totaled $20,000.00 more than the van itself was actually worth. To the bank, this did not compute. Instead of receiving a car loan with the typical interest of about four to five percent (at that time), we received a loan with the interest of 10.99 percent. Our other choice, in purchasing the used van, was to take a second mortgage on our house, and I know multiple families who have done this. If we were to have purchased a luxury item -- such as a camper, boat or plane -- we could have received an interest rate of just one percent. But, a $36,000.00 used minivan is not considered a luxury item (nor should it be).

Accessibility should not be treated as a luxury (and in this case, it is not even considered that), but a necessity. A necessity should not cost extra, and definitely should not cost as much as a Porsche. Modified vehicles need to be more affordable so they can be purchased by more who would like to do so. People who need an accessible vehicle, need it to get from point A to point B, that is it. An accessible vehicle is not for pleasure, it is not for status, it is simply for equal access and mobility. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Medical Supply Companies, Medicaid, and the Madness: And the Wheelchair Debacle Keeps on Spinning

It has been a while since I have written, but that does not mean nothing has been happening. To recap what was going on the last time I wrote, Redman, the company from which I purchased my power chair, claimed that my insurance did not pay them the complete amount that my chair was worth. Since then, I have been told by my insurance company that they did pay what they said they would. I was told that it had to do with Redman being out of network.

To my understanding (per Redman's information), Redman was considered in network. When any company is in network with an insurance company, the insurance company has to pay one price; however, when a company is out of network with the insurance company, the insurance company can pay a completely different price -- usually lower or not at all -- than if the said company was in network. Upon receiving the information that Redman was considered out of network with my insurance, I filed an appeal to my insurance company to pay the price Redman desires. That appeal has been denied, and I am now in the process of filing a second appeal.

So who is telling the truth? I have no idea. I do not know who or what to believe. All I know is that the cost of my power chair could still fall on my shoulders, that me continuing to have my power chair continues to be in jeopardy. This also indicates that my insurance does not really care about the wellbeing of their members, and Redman is not so different from other companies that sell wheelchairs after all.

To anyone purchasing a wheelchair (or any piece of medical equipment) through an insurance company, make sure you know the wheelchair supplier is in network with your insurance. It will be one less headache that you will have to deal with during this crazy process. This means you cannot take the medical supply company at their word, you must talk with your insurance company as well. I trusted the supplier, like I had the four times I purchased a power chair before, and for that I was stung.

Just once, I would love to be able to order a chair hassle free, receive my chair in a timely manner, have it be exactly what I ordered, and then not have to worry about anything post delivery (minus the upkeep). Just once. That's all I ask.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Medical Supply Companies, Medicaid, and the Madness: A Continuation of the Wheelchair Debacle

Yesterday, I received two phone calls, one regarding my old power chair, one regarding the new.

The first call entailed my dotor's office explaining that the medical supply company (MSC), Bellevue Healthcare (BH), asked for a prescription for the second joystick that they ordered for my old chair. This is absolutely ridiculous as my doctor had already written a prescription for the first joystick that BH had ordered to fix my chair. BH ordered the wrong joystick, and then had to order the correct joystick. Yes, they did order two joysticks, but the second should be on them. BH should not be allowed to ask for a second prescription. With a second prescription, BH will be able to bill my insurance -- a second time -- to cover the cost of their mistake; they were already paid for the first. This means that my doctor has to take the time to write and send a second prescription. This also means that my insurace is possibly going to double pay for BH's mistake, but it is possible that they will not. I already have my new chair, so why should they be obligated to fulfill the  cost of a joystick for an old chair, definitely if they already recently paid for one. Furthermore, this means that BH could demand that my joystick -- the second one that they had to order due to their mistake -- be paid for. I do not wish to be stuck with the bill, and if I just do not pay it, my credit could be on the line. BH made the mistake of ordering the wrong joystick; they should not be able to place the burden on my insurance nor myself; they should have to eat the cost.

The second call came from Redman, the wheelchair company from which I purchased my new power chair. Redman called to inform me that my insurance company did not pay anything close to what they said they would. My chair was preapproved. This means my insurance agreed to the cost of my chair even before it was ordered. Even though Redman gave my insurance an insanely high quote, my insurance agreed to pay the price and they should follow through with their agreement. Redman, like any other business, wants to be paid in full, especially because they were already told they would be. Just like I do not want to be stuck with the bill for the second joystick (on my old chair), I really do not want to get stuck with the bill for my new power chair. And unlike the joystick, I cannot afford to pay for the cost of this chair. This is why I have insurance!

Both Medicaid and my private insurance have thrown wrenches in the process of obtaining a working power chair, and now continue to make waves even after I have received both my "fixed" and new chairs. I thought the long process was over; I was wrong. Yes, I have a working chair, but knowing companies are continuing to take advantage of the consumer is concerning. These are issues that should not have to be dealt with, but as long as these problems are here, I might as well continue to rock the boat.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Progress Takes Time: Making the World More Accessible One Step at A Time

A couple weeks back, the parking lot of the building that Max Higbee (where I interned) rents was paved. All of the lines were repainted -- except the diagonal lines that indicate the access isle that is to accompany the accessible parking spot. Without the access isle, the "accessible" spot is no longer accessible to many who need that space to exit and enter their car. The international access symbol was repainted in the spot; however, this parking spot -- even with the international access symbol painted on the ground -- was not legally an accessible spot as the sign that is supposed to be at the front of the spot was missing. The line-lacking access isle was also blocked by a bike rack. The access isle was not intended to be a parking spot for bikes.  

The accessible parking spot in the parking lot at Max Higbee Center.The parking lot has recently been repaved, but the sign at the front of the spot (indicating that it is an accessible spot) and the diagonal lines (indicating the access isle) are both missing. There is also a bike rack in the supposed access isle.  

I acquired the e-mail address of Max Higbee Center's landlord. I first introduced myself, and then stated my case. In my e-mail I wrote,

"I noticed that the parking lot in front of Max Higbee and behind the Upfront has recently been paved. The handicap accessible spot caught my attention in that the access isle is no longer indicated with diagonal white stripes. I saw that the lines indicating the parking spots have already been repainted. Has it been planned for the diagonal white stripes to be repainted as well? 

I also have noticed that the bike rack sits partially in the access isle. This does not leave an adequate amount of space for someone who needs the access isle to exit and enter their car. 

Another technicality with the handicap parking spot is that even though the international access symbol has been repainted in the spot, the spot is not legally an accessible spot as it does not have the sign at the front indicating that it is an accessible spot. There is a for lease sign in about the place that the handicap parking sign should be."

The next day, I received a politically correct response of, "I'll look into it." Two weeks went by, and nothing had progressed any further. I asked my advisor to please check the progress of completing the accessible spot. She did. 

A total of (only) three weeks have now passed. I am thrilled to announce that the indicating sign has been rehung on the wall at the front of the accessible spot, and the bike rack has been moved. The diagonal lines have yet to be repainted, but progress has been made. Today, as I was leaving Max Higbee, there was a vehicle parked in the space where the diagonal lines are meant to be, but without that indication, how was the driver to know? This just shows that the lines are there for a reason, and in time, will be painted once again (hopefully without much more pursuit). 

Small steps over time will lead to large progress in the long run. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

There is No Independence without Dependence: The Relationship Between Wheelchairs, the Environment and Mobility

For the past three and a half months, I have used my manual chair for mobility, and relied on other people to maneuver me from point A to point B. My situation of dependence left me with the burning desire for the return of my freedom: my power wheelchair.

My power chair allows me to solely move about and venture into the world with ease. Would I say that I am more independent when using my power chair? To some extent, yes. However, my independence is dependent upon the accessibility of my environment.

When I use my manual chair and come across a restaurant with a step or a side walk lacking a curb-cut, whoever is pushing me, can usually just pop me up or down the step or curb. This is not the case with my power chair. First of all, when I use my power chair, I do not always have a companion accompanying me. My power chair is also quite heavy. It can take up to four strong and competent people to lift my power chair up just one or two steps.

Even though the American with Disabilities Act (the legislation written with the intent of creating an equal opportunity for all) was signed into law over twenty-six years ago, I still encounter building entrances blocked by stairs, and sidewalks that just end. Just yesterday, I ate at Fairhaven Pizza here in Bellingham. The entrance is one step up. There is an alternative entrance, only half a step up, through a different restaurant, and down a skinny hallway. I am not able to enter either way without assistance. (Fairhaven Pizza is a wonderful establishment; they would upgrade if the city would allow them to do so).

Fairhaven Pizza is not the only place that exposes my dependence; Bellingham has many more restaurants and shops that are not accessible to those of us who cannot access stairs. And just like Fairhaven Pizza is not alone here in Bellingham, Bellingham is not alone when exposing people's dependence on others. New York City for one (see previous blog posts on this topic).

Without curb cuts, ramps, and elevators (or a personal team of four strong and competent people), my power wheelchair is just a hunk of junk; without the change in mindset and accessibility, my power chair is no more liberating than my manual chair when I am on my own.

It is not solely the invention of technology that will continue to improve people's lives, but the changes of the social and physical environment that will fulfill equity and justice for all.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Gaining My Freedom Back: Finally, the Precedented Apathy Has Been Broken


My new power wheelchair arrived!

L ast Tuesday, I received a call informing me that my new power chair was ready to be delivered, and that Mike, the handy and delivery man for the company, could deliver my chair to me that coming Saturday or Sunday. I was extremely astonished, and completely overjoyed. I did not expect my chair for at least eight more weeks. The paperwork that I signed a couple weeks prior, indicated that it would take ten to twelve weeks, from the signing date, to receive the power wheelchair. I was even more astonished when I received a second call; this time it was Mike himself. He explained that if I was available, he could deliver my new chair the following day (this past Friday). And, he did!

In past experiences, the date indicated is always the minimum, and I have never had a power wheelchair delivered to me before the suggested delivery date. The first power chair that I ordered came about three months later; this arrival was right on schedule. The second power chair that I ordered took what see,ed like forever to make an appearance; it was a year in progress. My third power chair -- my first Permobil -- took five months to arrive. It had an electrical error, and I waited almost an entire year for the new Permobil (which was covered under warranty) to be delivered. So, for my new chair to be delivered within a two month time period from the first contact date, is absolutely amazing, and unprecedented.

Last June, I began the process of ordering a new power wheelchair. The power chair that I had at the time had died, and I was awaiting the day that it would be fixed. It was recommended to me that since my power wheelchair had died due to an electrical error, it was probably a good time to start pursuing a new power wheelchair. This sounded like a good idea to me, so I began the journey of ordering a new chair.

In the first days of this whole process, I contacted the Redman company. This is the company that has created the chair that I have desired for many years. This chair not only goes over six miles per hour, reclines, and elevates the foot rests, but it can configure the user into a standing position, but is still a rear-wheel drive chair. When I ordered my second chair, I was told that standing chairs did not exist. When I ordered my third chair -- my first Permobil -- I was told that standing chairs did exist, but only in combination with front-wheel drive chairs. Come to find out, Redman has been around for more than twenty years. The reason why I was told that rear-wheel drive power chairs do not exist is Redman, who makes this exact type of chair, does not contract with any medical supply companies; they do every step of the process themselves, cutting out the middleman (the medical supply company). The medical supply companies that I previously worked with to get my power chairs would have lost my business if I knew about Redman, and this time they did.

I absolutely love my new power wheelchair; I love my chair's functionality, I love(d) working with this company, and I love that I have my freedom back!

Kyann sitting in her new power wheelchair

Kyann standing in her new power wheelchair

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Quenching the Curiosity: On Becoming a Parent

The topic of becoming a parent has risen many times throughout my life, more specifically in the past ten years, but many times all the same. I have been asked many time if I can have kids, if I would like to have kids, or other questions along those lines. I do not mind if people who know me ask me these questions, I rather they ask than assume and I am pretty open about most topics. However, I am not as open to random people --- who I do not know --- asking me these questions. I mean, if they ask anyone and everyone these questions, then they can go right ahead and ask me, but if not, it is not appropriate to ask just because I am in a wheelchair.

I am writing this post as I do not desire to be looked at as "different" from any other woman. I also desire for people to be informed, and to quench many people's desire to have these questioned answered. However, I do not hold the same beliefs as all women, so remember, my answers may not carry over as an answer that every other woman would give. Nevertheless, we are all people that would like to be treated as such, so I would advise that unless you ask every woman these questions to refrain from asking them to any woman in a wheelchair.

Here are my thoughts.

There is the question of whether or not I can have kids. Some women who are in wheelchairs cannot have kids, but many can; just like women who are not in wheelchairs, some can and some cannot. My disability does not affect my ability to get pregnant, but there is a question of how my body would react to carrying a baby. However, isn't that question applicable for any woman?

There is also the question of whether or not I would like to have kids. Yes, I would love to be a mother; I yearn to be a mommy one day. Whether this blessing happens via carrying a baby for nine months or fundraising and traveling to meet my child before bringing them home, I am up for either.

Many have been concerned about me having kids, not just for the sake of my health, but for the possibility of passing on my disability. First of all, that implies that my disability is a trait that should not be passed on. My disability may not completely define me, but it is still a part of who I am; it may cause some struggles, but who is born and lives life struggle free? To suggest that my disability should be eliminated, demeans my worth. My other thought is that if my future child is born with my same disability, who would be better than I to be their mommy?

It is also just as likely (or maybe even more likely) for a possible child of mine to be born with a different disability. Anyone has the possibility of having a child with a disability, who contracts cancer or another illness, or has a debilitating accident. Maybe no one should have kids if disability is such a concern.