Used Wheelchairs, Assistive Equipment Find New Life in Eastern KY Shop
Tuesday, July 12, 2022
In Hazard, Kentucky, volunteers are refurbishing used wheelchairs and other assistive equipment, and giving them to community members for free. So far, the program has provided more than $3.5 million worth of equipment to those in need.
Dr. Patrick Kitzman, professor of physical therapy at the University of Kentucky and director of Kentucky Appalachian Rural Rehabilitation Network, said for many rural residents, the costs of wheelchairs, walkers, bath benches and other products can run into the hundreds of dollars, either with a copay or without insurance.
"And what folks usually don't realize is when you have a wheelchair purchased by insurance, you're only allowed to get one wheelchair every five years," Kitzman pointed out. "A wheelchair takes a lot of beating, so many of our folks need that second wheelchair at home to help them."
Kitzman and his colleagues are the recent recipients of a more than $8,000 dollar AARP Community Challenge grant. He noted the money will help the shop purchase new workbenches, a 3D printer, pipe benders, and a drill press, in order to better tailor equipment to individual users' needs and develop new prototype parts.
He noted the service learning program, called Coordinating and Assisting the Reuse of Assistive Technology: Together One Priority (CARAT-TOP) trains college students, high-schoolers, and volunteers on how to repair equipment.
"We determine what needs to be tightened, what needs to be cleaned, what needs to be replaced," Kitzman outlined. "We usually have two students working on each piece of equipment to make sure there's always accountability."
Kitzman added losing access to or not having functioning assistive equipment can be life-altering for the individuals who rely on them.
"If your wheelchair breaks, you are not able to participate in the community," Kitzman stressed. "You can't go to church, go shopping. If you have a job, it decreases your ability to get to your employment. So, it's a big deal."
CARAT-TOP is part of the largest group of grantees to date with more than $3 million awarded among 260 community-based groups nationwide.
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