3-week wait for wheelchair repair shows system is ‘broken,’ says Toronto man

A Toronto man says he’s been left stranded as he waits for repairs to devices on which he depends daily, including his electric wheelchair. 

Joshua Dvorkin, 44, is quadriplegic and has been using a wheelchair ever since a seizure caused him to fall seven feet from a balcony 14 years ago. He also needs an adjustable bed and a commode to use the washroom. 

In a span of three weeks, all these items fell into disrepair and Dvorkin’s efforts to have them fixed have yielded few results. 

‘If my wheelchair is down, I’m down’ 

“Literally, I can’t go anywhere,” he said. 

The commode seat cracked, causing abrasions on his body. The remote controlled bed stopped working, making it impossible for him to get in and out without help. 

On his wheelchair, the pad that cushions his shin is broken, the controller won’t tilt the chair and the entire right side broke off, and is currently being held together with zip ties. 

“My wheelchair is my legs,” he said. “If my wheelchair is down, I’m down.” 

Joshua Dvorkin’s wheelchair is held together by zip ties. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Repairs to his devices are covered under the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). Typically, Dvorkin either calls his case worker or a provincial hotline to request repairs. He said it never took more than a couple of days for Motion, the company to which the province contracts the work, to arrive at his door. 

This time, he’s waited almost three weeks and only thing that’s been repaired is the wheelchair’s calf pad. 

Funding

Dvorkin’s story doesn’t surprise Spinal Cord Injury Ontario. The organization’s director of advocacy, Peter Athanasopoulos, says he has been receiving calls about the lack of timely repairs to wheelchairs every week for the last six months from across Ontario. 

He said some vendors like Motion are requesting payment up front before they assess or repair devices, whereas before the company would do the repair first and wait for payment from the province after. 

Peter Athanasopoulos is calling on the province, industry and community to work together to find solutions. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

When CBC News asked Motion whether it had changed its practices recently, the company said its “repair and maintenance process has always been in alignment” with guidelines set out by the province, which requires advance authorization from the ministry. 

“For example, the Ontario Disability Support Program’s process for Mobility Device Batteries and Repairs indicates that advance authorization from the Ministry is required before proceeding with repairs to a mobility device,” Motion replied in an email.

“I’m absolutely, completely frustrated,” Dvorkin told CBC News. 

“I’m tired of advocating.” 

Bedridden for weeks

Athanasopoulos said the problem is a human rights issue. 

“We’re at risk of people dying,” he said. 

He has heard stories of people being bedridden for weeks because they were waiting for a flat tire or joystick to be fixed. 

“Imagine what that does to your dignity.” 

The Ontario Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services said it “understands that any delay in response can be frustrating” and suggested Dvorkin contact his case worker and the ministry. 

Athanasopoulos said he’s hoping the government will work with industry and people living with disabilities to find a way to streamline the repair process. 

“We’re putting people’s health at risk. We’re putting people’s families at risk and employment at risk.” 

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