Purpose: The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognises assistive technology such as wheelchairs (WCs) as a tool for social inclusion for this population. In less resourced settings, organisations lack information about effective models of WC service provision. The goal of this study was to investigate the lifespan of WCs and whether they provided reliable mobility, at one clinic in Mexico.
Methods: Caregivers of children, who had requested replacements for their WCs from a clinic in Mexico, were interviewed in Spanish. Among others, the questions pertained to repairs/modifications, adverse events and WC usage characteristics. The owners exchanged their WCs for new ones at the clinic, and the maintenance status of each returned WC was evaluated using the WC Assessment Checklist (WAC).
Results: Twenty-three donated WCs, used by children aged 3 to 14 years for an average of 19 months, were evaluated. Brakes (n=18), seat and back-sling upholstery (n=11 and 7 respectively), and armrests (n=14) were the components that failed most frequently. A total of 26 adverse events due to WC failure were reported. Adverse events were significantly associated with poor WAC scores (rs=-0.544, p=0.007).
Conclusions: Poor WC reliability, associated with adverse events which could undermine social engagement, indicates the need for a stronger WC and for regular maintenance. For instance, brake failures which were most often associated with adjustment issues, could have been resolved with maintenance, while seat and back-sling upholstery and armrest failures suggest that the WC may not be appropriate for the environment. Future work should investigate the robustness of these WCs using standardised methods (ISO 7176), as well as the impact of maintenance interventions on WC reliability.