By CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd

DENVER (CBS4) – Kenny Maestas told Colorado state lawmakers he shouldn’t have to wait two months to get a new battery for his powered wheelchair. If a bill making its way through the legislature passes, he won’t have to anymore.

A bill by Senators Rachel Zenzinger and John Cooke would require powered wheelchair manufacturers to provide the parts, tools, manuals and diagnostics so anyone could make repairs or do maintenance, similar to how it works with cars.

Danny Katz, spokesman at Colorado Public Interest Research Group, testified the right to repair powered wheelchairs is even more important than the right to repair vehicles.

(credit: CBS)

“If we’re allowing people to fix cars that go 70 mph, we should be able to allow people to fix their wheelchairs that go 7 mph,” said Katz.

Wheelchair manufacturers and suppliers say powered wheelchairs – unlike cars – are FDA approved medical devices specially designed and programmed to meet patient safety requirements.

“It really is a very complex medical device, and so someone without the training, somebody that might be a good mechanic we believe can’t do, shouldn’t do these more complex repairs,” said Don Crayback, Executive Director of the National Coalition for Assisted and Rehab Technology.

He noted people can already do basic repairs themselves.

John Goetz, who works at the manufacturer Permobil, said allowing untrained technicians to do complex repairs risks patient safety.

“We’ve had countless times whether there’s somebody that liked to work on products that have caused serious injuries.”

Bill supporters say they risk serious injuries, including sores, when they don’t have access to their customized wheelchair for months because of a simple repair.

“What does it cost of a repair as opposed to a lengthy hospital visit?” asked Curt Wolf. “We should have the opportunity to repair that and fail or succeed based on our own decision.”

Julie Reikin, whose used a powered wheelchair for 30 years, called it the “dignity of risk” and told state lawmakers she should be able to decide whether to risk having her powered wheelchair repaired by someone other than the manufacturer.

“The argument that’s most insulting to us is people with disabilities will make mistakes and hurt ourselves. We’re not stupid,” Reikin said.

While manufactures agreed repairs are taking too long. They blamed Medicaid, which requires prior authorization for a repair. A separate bill would get rid of that.

If the right to repair bill passes, it would be a first in the nation. It has already passed the House and made it out of a Senate committee Monday and moves to the floor.

Shaun Boyd