Quadraplegic slams proposed changes to wheelchair and mobility scooter regulations

Quadriplegic Eric Cook.
Quadriplegic Eric Cook.

QUADRAPLEGIC Eric Cook said proposed regulation changes for wheelchair and mobility scooters would leave some users housebound.

A Standards Australia draft document proposes a new blue label system that would require powered wheelchairs and mobility scooters to comply with a raft of new conditions, including weight, size and speed specifications.

Any device that does not comply would be prohibited from public transport and road-related areas and footpaths.

Mr Cook blasted the proposed new standard, specifically the 300kg maximum weight limit for a wheelchair or a scooter and its occupant.

“My chair alone is 170kg. I’m 193cm tall and not unusually overweight but I’m already on the brink of the limit,” he said.

“If I end up developing diabetes or even just get stuck in bed with an illness and put on weight, suddenly I’m not allowed in a taxi, on a bus, a train or a ferry.

“People stuck in wheelchairs tend to be heavier because it is much more difficult to exercise.

“The prospect of being confined to your own home is incredibly depressing and plays a huge amount on your psyche.”

Mr Cook also raised concerns with a proposed 140cm minimum height requirement for an occupied device.

If occupants are too short when seated, they will have to attach a flag to their wheelchair or scooter.

Mr Cook said a flag would draw additional unwanted attention to his disability.

Other requirements are a low speed mode, initiated by the occupant, which limits the mobility device’s maximum speed to 5km/h.

Any mobility device weighing more than 120kg would also be prohibited from flying on certain types of commercial aircraft, including the Airbus A330, and Boeing 777 and 737.

Assistive Technology Suppliers Australasia (ATSA) executive officer Chris Sparks said the proposed new standard would drive up the cost of electric wheelchairs and mobility scooters, the vast majority of which are manufactured overseas to meet less stringent international standards.

“A unique Australian standard with no global relevance would require additional testing and labelling of imported devices, which adds cost,” he said.

Mr Sparks also said close to 30 per cent of the mobility devices currently in Australia, classified as Class A, would be automatically excluded from blue label eligibility because the proposed new standard requires wheelchairs to meet or exceed Class B specifications.

“Class A devices are smaller and more portable – usually used indoors or on flat, even terrain – and very unlikely to comply with the Class B stability requirements,” he said.

“Effectively this new standard says everyone needs to own a Land Cruiser because there are some places a Mini can’t drive.

“Most people have the common sense not to take a Mini four-wheel driving and the same applies to mobility devices.”

Standards Australia said the public comment period for the proposed document had already closed and the committee would now review the comments received before voting on the final draft for publication.

The committee includes representatives from 19 organisations, including ATSA, Royal Perth Hospital, Engineers Australia and the National Disability Insurance Agency.

The draft document can be viewed in full at http://www.scootersaus.com.au/images/PDFs/Draft_standard.pdf

To comply with the proposed Blue Label system, electric mobility devices must:

Not exceed 300kg when occupied or 170kg when unoccupied.

Be limited to a maximum speed of 10km/h with a low speed mode limited to 5 km/h.

Be in accordance with or exceed the specifications of Class B wheelchairs.

Occupants must be a minimum of 140cm tall when seated, or attach a flag meeting the height requirement.

No wheelchair weighing more than 120kg will be accepted on selected commercial aircraft.