Living with a disability is expensive

Living with a disability is expensive. Oftentimes, the supports that help make life easier come with a higher cost, one insurance doesn't often cover. I speak from experience. 

I have a friend who recently turned to friends to help him raise the last bit of the $7,000 he needed to buy assistive technology that would give power to his wheelchair. The smart driver unit would be a game-changer for him as he travels the world for work and fun. 

My friend’s situation is another example of the extra cost of having a disability. Often people who are not disabled aren’t aware of the extra costs or think the government or insurance companies cover these things. Think again. 

My insurance will cover my wheelchair as a medical device every five years — if they deem it necessary. It’s not automatic. They look for ways to refurbish it. It’s a tool I use nearly every day that gets lots of wear and tear. But that doesn’t mean insurance companies will replace it — and often, they won’t pay for upgrades. 

Wheelchair add-ons

My manual wheelchair can cost $3,000 or more, and insurance covers a percentage. 

When I get a new wheelchair, many measurements are involved because it’s customized for me. Adding extra colors or bags costs extra. Even the type of tires I choose at have additional costs. These add-ons usually aren’t covered by insurance. 

One of the benefits of working with my employer is coverage for a secondary wheelchair. (It’s a job perk I’d never heard of.) It can also be the chair you use for sports or other recreational activities

Many people have just one wheelchair that they use all of the time. It can be huge inconvenience if you get a flat tire, or bolts come loose or any other situation which could prevent the loss of mobility.

The hidden charges paid by those with disabilities vary according to their needs. No matter what that might be, it’s costly to have a disability. 

Housing sacrifices

That’s the case when it comes to housing. When I began looking for my first home, I had a limited selection because it had to be accessible. I ended up making a lot of sacrifices.

I was looking for a home with no steps but settled for one with two steps because I could add a ramp in the garage to get inside with my wheelchair. I picked a condo — with a monthly association fee — to handle the outside jobs that would be difficult for me to do independently. 

The kitchen counters were too tall in the condo but moving them lower would have cost thousands of dollars, so I found a workaround so I could boil water and wash my dishes. There was a tub instead of a walk-in shower, so I did a workaround with a shower seat. While the bathroom is bigger than most, I need to change the sink so I can roll my wheelchair underneath so I can use it.

I’ve looked at remodeling both the kitchen and bathroom, but as you can imagine, it’s pretty costly. For pretty much everything, I’ve needed to be more creative when faced with these obstacles. I was recently able to replace the carpet with a laminate floor, which makes rolling around the condo easier. 

I've learned to adapt.

When I bought my most recent car, I had to spend $1,000 extra to add hand controls. I could have spent more on adjusting the seat height but opted to add less expensive cushions.

25% extra for groceries

My grocery bill is about 25% more than average because I use a Shipt subscription, which means, in addition to the $99 annual membership, I pay slightly more for groceries plus a tip for the shopper. Still, I appreciate this option because, in the past, I could buy only a small amount of groceries at a time. 

The first time I was left to shop, my wheelchair accidentally hit a large Rubbermaid display.  It came crashing down, and everyone within earshot probably heard. The challenges of shopping while using a wheelchair are many, from high shelves and narrow aisles to heavy items and carts. My simple bag could hold between 10 to 12 items maximum, depending on what I purchased. I went to the grocery store multiple days a week just to buy the necessities for a meal, toiletry items, and household supplies.

Home delivery is an accommodation that works out wonderfully for my lifestyle. Instead of the frustration and anxiety that occurred with grocery shopping, I can utilize an invention that anyone can access and maintain independence.

So, whether you’re buying a wheelchair, a vehicle, a home, or even simply getting groceries, pretty much everything costs more for those living with a disability.

This article is a part of the year-long series Disability Inclusion exploring the state of West Michigan’s growing disability community. The series is made possible through a partnership with Centers for Independent Living organizations across West Michigan.


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