Editor's Note

Stop, Thieves

Fingerprint of TheifTwitter posting is part of my job now, which means every day, I’m scouring the Internet and news wires for stories about wheelchairs, accessibility, mobility-related conditions, advocacy and policy, etc.

So every day, I get barraged by news reports of stolen wheelchairs. Multiple wheelchairs gone, taken from different people in different places under similar circumstances. Chairs are stolen from unattended cars, or sometimes the chair is stolen because it’s inside a car that is being stolen. Other chairs are stolen from the porches or yards of homes. Many times, the stolen chairs belong to children. I’m not sure if that’s because stealing a wheelchair from a child is considered more buzz worthy from a “What is this world coming to?” news wire perspective, or if kids’ chairs are generally easier to steal because they’re smaller and because children spend more time out of their chairs than adults do, thereby providing more opportunity for the chairs to be snatched.

But here’s what I do know: I’m sick of reading about chairs being stolen. Here’s why:

  • You know it’s a wheelchair. Some chairs are collateral damage from grand theft auto, but many thieves grab chairs from front steps of homes. There’s no way you’re mistaking that piece of medical equipment for a string of diamonds, a big-screen TV or an iPad. Yes, all theft is bad. But stealing a person’s legs is on a whole different level.
  • You know it’s a complex wheelchair. I’m not talking about standard manual wheelchairs being stolen. I’m talking about customized wheelchairs with accessories from specialized electronics to hard-core positioning components. I accept that thieves probably don’t know kyphosis from lordosis. But you can’t tell me they don’t know that what they’re stealing is very different from the generic wheelchairs they’ve seen in hospitals.
  • You know it’s a child’s chair. Again, you’re not stealing a chair that someone first snagged from an airport. That seat is 10" wide, and the larger wheels in back are still only the size of dinner plates. There’s a push handle in the back at Mom-and-Dad height, and the chair is covered in Princess Elsa or Iron Man stickers. You’re stealing the mobility of someone who still believes in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.

These robbery reports are accompanied by family members begging for the chair to be returned: He can’t go to school without it. Now she can’t go outside with her friends. The latest story that made my head spin was about a Utah family whose 1999 Honda Civic was stolen; a wheelchair belonging to their 5-year-old son, who has cerebral palsy, was inside.

You can keep the car, the father said. Just return my boy’s wheelchair.

A good Samaritan found the wheelchair abandoned nearby, apparently shoved out of the stolen car by a thief who would like us to think he or she had a conscience. Except that the seat and back of the wheelchair were missing. The dad then had to explain how the wheelchair was custom fit to his son and is useless without the seat and back.

So, here’s what I wish I could tell wheelchair thieves: You won’t be able to sell that complex rehab wheelchair. It’s one of a kind, useless to anyone but the unique person for whom it was built. To that person, and to his/her family, that chair is rolling to the bathroom like a big boy, without needing Daddy to carry you. It is going to the park without having to sit in the baby stroller. It is catching a softball game on a summer evening and watching sunsets and munching popcorn at a summer blockbuster and eating too much at a block party. It’s a large part of the stuff that makes life worth living.

Give it back.

This article originally appeared in the August 2016 issue of Mobility Management.

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at lwatanabe@1105media.com.

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