How a Right to Repair Act could speed up wheelchair repairs

Stakeholders are discussing HB22-1031 with the House Public & Behavioral Health & Human Services Committee. Photo courtesy of Danny Katz

politics

A Right to Repair bill that would require wheelchair manufacturers to give customers tools to repair their chairs faces the Colorado Senate.


On March 22, Congressman David Ortiz told the Colorado House Committee on Public & Behavioral Health & Human Services what his power chair means to him. He explained the customization of his chair – it was carefully designed to support his shoulders, back and head, for example, and to ensure he doesn’t get any pressure points after sitting in the same position for hours. “Suffice it to say, it’s freedom, safety and health all at once,” Ortiz said.

So if his electric wheelchair breaks down, a quick repair is the top priority. Unfortunately, waiting for a solution from the wheelchair manufacturer’s service department can take a long time. Kenny Maestas, a legislative coordinator for the Colorado Cross Disability Coalition (CCDC), recalls waiting 60 days for a simple fix. “It was a nightmare scenario,” Maestas says of the weeks he spent without the medical device that gives him the mobility to care for his son, get work done, and just live his life.

Even if the repair is simple, such as B. changing a battery or replacing an inner tube, most wheelchair users cannot perform the repair themselves (or hire a trusted repair person), in part because they have not received instructions or specialized tools. Some power chairs even have a locking device to prevent tampering with the hardware or software, and manufacturers are not currently required to provide the appropriate key.

Giving wheelchair users the tools to make simple repairs is the goal of a “Right to Repair” bill currently making its way through the Colorado Legislature. HB22-1031, titled “Consumer Right To Repair Powered Wheelchairs,” would require manufacturers to make parts, embedded software, firmware, diagnostic documentation and more available to consumers. The bill describes a manufacturer’s failure to do so as a deceptive trading practice. It is a companion bill to HB22-1290 that would eliminate some of the bureaucracy that Medicaid recipients face when attempting to repair their wheelchairs.

Watch movement repair rights have received increased attention in recent years. In 2021, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a report on anticompetitive practices by manufacturers that limit consumers’ ability to repair their devices. Federal lawmakers tabled two separate bills earlier this year that could make repairs more accessible (neither has resigned from the committee), and President Joe Biden last year issued an executive order, in part prompting the FTC to develop more regulations that would help independent repair shops to compete against industry giants.

However, these regulations will take time to develop, which is one of the reasons that 27 states, including Colorado, have begun passing state-level right-to-repair laws.

Representative Brianna Titone, who is a co-sponsor of HB22-1031 with Ortiz, lobbied last year for a broader right to repair bill called the Consumer Digital Repair Bill Of Rights. That law, HB21-1199, would have required manufacturers of digital devices, such as cell phones and tablets, to provide consumers with the tools to repair their devices (including power wheelchairs). HB21-1199 was ultimately defeated after local entities like the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, as well as national groups like the Entertainment Software Association (the video game industry’s trade association) argued they had the right to choose how consumers use their products.

This year, Titone decided to focus on a narrower group. “We haven’t had much success fighting the biggest companies in the world,” she says. Nonetheless, members of the wheelchair industry have spoken out against HB22-1031. Donald Clayback, president of the National Coalition for Assistive & Rehab Technology (a non-profit organization of suppliers and manufacturers of Complex Rehab Technology products and services), testified at the hearing, reinforcing Ortiz’s argument that the chairs are complex, purpose-built machines .

But, according to Clayback, that just means “it takes a lot of customization and technical knowledge to fix this gear. There are reasons we send skilled technicians on-site to address these things, and it’s not just to protect the manufacturer, it’s more importantly to protect the customer.”

Industry groups also fear the bill would force them to divulge trade secrets if it goes into effect. However, the bill stipulates that trade secrets do not have to be disclosed to independent repairers for a manufacturer to comply with the law.

Those supporting the bill, such as social service group CCDC and consumer advocacy group Colorado Public Interest Research Group, disagree. “The industry is acting like these chairs are going to explode or something,” says JoyAnn Ruscha, director of government relations and grants and Arc Thrift Stores, one of the state’s largest employers of people with Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy and many other disabilities. “But many disabled people and those who love them can operate a simple screwdriver.”

HB22-1031 was passed through the Public and Behavioral Health and Human Services Committee and then through the House, receiving bipartisan if not unanimous support both times. The fact that several Republicans voted for Titone’s bill is encouraging for the Democrat, who represents District 27. However, she knows there is a battle ahead: “The real test of acceptance will be in the Senate.”

Angela Uheil

Angela Uheil

Angela Ufheil presents, writes and edits stories for 5280.com.

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