Monday, 21 September 2009

Life's not always fair!

We're always being told that life's not fair, but another example of this cropped up in my life over the last few days. SWMBO is a full time wheelchair user because of MS, and because of her disabilities uses an electric power chair as she doesn't have the strength or co-ordination to manoeuvre herself in an ordinary (manual) wheelchair. Her current chair is adapted to enable her to adjust the position of her legs, back and head - and also will raise her up so that she can reach the top shelves in supermarkets etc. This last function is often the one that gets the most use, without ever going into a shop. For years we had to put up with people (literally) looking down at her and assuming that as she is in a wheelchair, she is obviously brain-dead. Fortunately, or otherwise, this is far from the case as she was an accountant until her MS got so bad that she could not continue at work any more.
Anyway, back to the seat-raising. We both work with disability groups at a local level and often have to attend meetings or functions as group representatives. We found some time ago, that people will talk to her completely differently if she raises the chair up so that she is at eye level with the rest of the people in the room. The problem is not really applicable when we are around other people involved with disability in some way, but it's really noticeable when entering "normal" society. It is also worth saying that the higher up the promotion scale someone is, the harder they seem to find it to accept that a person in a wheelchair could be equal or above them socially, intellectually or in any other way.

Well, last week, the batteries on her chair started to fail and wouldn't hold a charge for any decent length of time. This led to the bit of unfairness that this post is about. We contacted the wheelchair company to ask about replacement batteries and were told that they were available at a cost of £186 each (the chair takes 2) plus post and package of £36. Once I'd picked myself up off the floor I thanked them for the information and told them that I'd be in touch, thinking "not a chance in Hell"! It's also worth remembering, that these are ex-vat prices, as vat is not payable on disability items. Next I contacted our local disability shop and was quoted £159 each. Well at least it was going in the right direction. Then I had a trawl around the interweb thingy and checked out ebay too. This got the price down to £144 each, although there were some advertised at £395 each, labeled as the best battery money can buy. For that price, I'd want them gold-plated, hand-delivered and fitted by nubile young nymphets! By now, it had become something of a challenge - how low can the price go?

I couldn't get the price any lower than this until a chance remark by a neighbour who is VERY into his boats. He told me about a company that he knew who provided him with all his batteries at a very reasonable cost. Well, by now I was prepared to try anything once. I contacted the company, a marine supplier, and got a very pleasant surprise - £105 each and I could have next-day delivery for £20 or collect them myself whenever I wanted. As the opportunity of a day by the sea-side is not to be sniffed at, we arranged to pick them up the next day!
When we arrived late the next morning, we were met by a very nice guy, who asked us to give him a minute while he went to get the batteries out of the back. When he found out what we wanted the batteries for and when we were going to collect them, he had taken them into his workshop and given them a trickle-charge overnight to make sure that they were fully ready to go. He even spent 15 minutes helping me to change them on the wheelchair there and then - the kind of service that, most of the time, you can only dream about!

The really remarkable thing about all of this, is that the batteries that he supplied us with are the same ones that we had been quoted for by the disability companies. He then gave us a card with the details of his supplier on, and said that if we needed more and approached them direct, we would get them even cheaper. Sometimes you get lucky!
So, this begs the question; if disability companies are "looking after" one of the most vulnerable groups in society, why do they have to rip us off like this, and why can a marine chandlers supply identical items at almost half price? There is no reason for exploitation like this, other than the disability tag, and I really feel that it is something that should be looked into. It is not unusual for this to be the case, as many items given the disability label are overpriced too. Sometimes the same item will appear in two different packages, one for everybody and one for the disabled. The distinction will be in the price, as the disabled one will, inevitably, be dearer. Oh, on reflection, it's probably to pay for the extra ink in the printing as they use a larger type-face for disabled goods. This is one more reason to mourn the passing of Woolworths, as they were one of the few suppliers who did not do this, and actually kept the prices down.

Right, rant over - it's time for a laugh to lighten the mood. At least it would have been if I'd been able to insert the picture that I wanted to upload at this point, however, the only place it will post it is right at the beginning of the post, and that's not where I want it. You'll just have to take my word for it that it was really funny, and wait until I have sorted out what I'm actually doing here. God, this technology's hard to get to grip with! Why is it that a (supposedly) intelligent person like me struggles with it, yet my eldest grandson and his "mates" have the combined intellect of a single amoeba but could program the space shuttle whilst speaking only in grunts?

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