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Program provides wheelchairs to individuals in need

Melinda Waldrop //March 11, 2021//

Program provides wheelchairs to individuals in need

Melinda Waldrop //March 11, 2021//

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The COVID-19 pandemic has spawned a myriad of health concerns, but one local organization is working to make sure that mobility is not one of them.

The S.C. Assistive Technology program, part of the Center for Disability Resources at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, recently received a $74,542 grant from the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. The foundation’s High Impact Assistive Technology grant funded the purchase of six wheelchairs that S.C. Assistive Technology will make available to individuals awaiting delivery of new personal mobility equipment.

“This has been an identified need that we’ve been aware of,” Carol Page, S.C. Assistive Technology Program director, said. “One of the things we do on a daily basis is take in gently used equipment and then get that back into the community after we sanitize it. We give that equipment away. So we have gotten these requests in the past, just people frustrated that they get fitted for a wheelchair but then they have to wait until they actually get the wheelchair after it’s been ordered, and there’s this time when they need something and it’s not available to them.”

The wheelchairs — three manual and three power — will be made available for up to six weeks. There is no fee for the wheelchair loan, fitting or delivery, and no insurance requirements have to be met, Page said.

“This is for people all across South Carolina,” she said. “The vendor we’re working with, which is National Seating and Mobility, they would be able to deliver a wheelchair anywhere in South Carolina and get it fitted to the person for their use during the short period of time.”

The Reeve Foundation’s National Paralysis Resource Center awards one-year Quality of Life grants in various categories for assistive technology devices or services that increase the independence of people living with paralysis, their family members and caregivers. Four grants totaling $299,542 were awarded in December 2020.

Since the program’s inception in 1999, more than 3,250 grants totaling more than $30 million have been awarded.

“In every way imaginable, 2020 has been a very difficult year for the organizations we support and those living with paralysis that we serve,” Mark Bogosian, director of the foundation’s Quality of Life grants program, said in a news release. “It is my deepest hope that these high-impact, innovative projects and the assistive technology they deliver will alleviate some of those difficulties that many within our population have faced and will continue to face. These are promising endeavors being carried out by great leaders in our field. I have great faith in their success.”

In 2018, S.C. Assistive Technology received a $74,000 grant from the foundation to use in its eye gaze communication solutions project, aimed at improving the communication abilities of individuals with paralysis, spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, ALS and cerebral palsy.

S.C. Assistive Technology made its first wheelchair loan in February, Page said, with two other people slated to receive a wheelchair by the end of that month.

“We’ve already got this in motion,” she said. “It goes for a whole year, the grant period. But then we’ll be offering these wheelchairs for loan after the grant period as well. It’s not going away when the grant period is over. That’s the beauty of the Christopher Reeve grant. You get equipment that you’ll be able to use after the grant period is over.”

Those in need of a wheelchair can contact S.C. Assistive Technology at 803-935-5263.

The program serves those in need of a replacement wheelchair as well as those ordering one for the first time.

“We have professionals who fit people for wheelchairs every day,” Page said. “They are the ones actually delivering the wheelchairs to people, making sure that it’s set up just for them, making those adjustments, and then the person can have it up to six weeks. If they call us at the end of the six weeks and say I need it for one more week, we’re definitely going to let that stay for another week.

“We’re just going to be flexible with what the person needs. … The batteries might need to replaced or they’re not holding a charge anymore. All kinds of things could be going on.”

The wheelchairs are sized for adults, Page said.

While the life of a wheelchair varies, most users can expect to use one for around five years.

The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation was founded by actor Christopher Reeve, best known for his role as Superman, and wife Dana after Reeve was paralyzed in a 1995 equestrian accident. The foundation supports spinal cord injury research and works to improve the quality of life of individuals and families affected by paralysis.