Suppose you’re waiting to be picked up for your introductory ride on HandyDART. You’re sitting in a wheelchair borrowed from Terrace’s Canadian Red Cross Health Equipment Loan Cupboard. You have a medical appointment for your first follow-up since an injury confined you to a wheelchair. But when HandyDART arrives, the driver refuses to take you. “Sorry,” he says. “You need to be wearing a lap belt.”
But your borrowed wheelchair didn’t come with a lap belt. And no one mentioned to ride HandyDart you would need a lap belt.
Terrace’s Red Cross Loan Cupboard lacks sufficient lap belts to outfit all their wheelchairs. As well, you must ask for a lap belt if you think you might need one; Loan Cupboard volunteers are not permitted to inform you that a lap belt is mandatory when riding HandyDART. (Even a man’s sturdy leather belt won’t be accepted as a stop gap safety measure until you can get one.)
The driver’s refusal to take you along gives you a choice – miss your appointment or phone for a taxi with a wheelchair accessible van.
In both the HandyDART and the taxi vans the wheelchair itself is anchored at four corners while the user is strapped in with a combination lap/shoulder seatbelt. But in 2012 HandyDART upgraded its policy making it mandatory for each wheelchair user to also be secured in their chair by a lap belt to prevent tumbling out of the wheelchair while descending a ramp or if the bus should suddenly stop. Taxi vans do not require wheelchair users to wear a lap belt.
Since HandyDART passengers must wear a lap belt, it would seem reasonable for all wheelchairs loaned by the Loan Cupboard to come equipped with their own lap belt attached, just in case. Equally sensible would be for the volunteers to have permission to inform wheelchair borrowers of the lap belt requirement so the user would never be denied and left sitting at the curb.
Before the Terrace Loan Cupboard can arrange for an extra lap belt from head office in Prince George the user’s therapist must forward a signed requisition to Prince George confirming the user requires this aid. Only then will an extra lap belt be sent to Terrace, via Northern Health Connection’s bus.
Once arrived in Terrace, the lap belt must be installed by a qualified technician or physiotherapist … even though installation involves nothing more than replacing two SEM screws using a Phillips screwdriver. A Phillips screwdriver is a tool handy in most households. SEM screws have an attached washer for a wider grip on soft materials that might tear under stress.
During my 32 years running an upholstery shop I dealt with SEM screws whenever I replaced worn or torn fabrics on wheelchair seats or backs.
According to Medicare Technology Limited, a wholesaler distributor of scooters, wheelchairs and walking aids, “In the U.K. a qualified professional isn’t required to install the lap belt. Anybody could do it, however most users will have it installed by their dealer.”
Wheelchair owners or borrowers can buy a sanctioned lap belt at Shoppers on Park Avenue for $24.99, or at Medichair, $49 installed.
For some inexplicable reason, Red Cross Loan Cupboards are not allowed to advertise or fund raise, despite their need for more equipment and the Red Cross’ willingness to solicit funds with gusto at the drop of a tornado in another country.
Loan Cupboards do, however, welcome donations of canes and bathtub stools (made from sterilizable materials such as metal or plastic, not wood; crutches; commodes; and other medical aids.
Claudette Sandecki keeps a close eye on the world from her home in Thornhill.