Editor’s Note: Consequences that Teach

Last week, a video of two university students shoving an unoccupied wheelchair down a flight of stairs at a pub in Erie, Pa., went viral.

The wheelchair had been unobtrusively parked on a stairwell landing while its owner — a young woman who’s a double amputee — was in the restroom. An AP News story from March 20 said the wheelchair, purchased a year ago for $2,000, suffered damage to a wheel lock, a push handle, and an armrest, and that the wheels now “drag when moving forward.” 

Three misdemeanor charges were filed against Carson Briere, 23, and Patrick Carrozzi, student-athletes at nearby Mercyhurst University. Briere, who plays hockey at Mercyhurst, has received the bulk of press coverage so far due to his family name; he issued an apology the next day. His father, Philadelphia Flyers interim GM Daniel Briere, also issued a statement, saying his son is “very sorry.” Mercyhurst suspended Briere and Carrozzi, a lacrosse player, from their athletic teams as the school investigated.

Of course, that incident is disgusting. But these young men are not the first people to ever treat a wheelchair as if it’s… a cheap commodity? As common as a cane or crutch? Someone else’s property that deserves no respect?

I’m not going to call them terrible people; I don’t know them. I also don’t know the airport/airline employees who damage and break so many wheelchairs every year. Besides, the Complex Rehab Technology (CRT) industry believes education is the bedrock on which better outcomes are ultimately based.

So if I were in charge of the world — yes, that’s a bad idea, I know — here are the consequences I’d assign to a person who breaks or loses someone else’s wheelchair through abuse, neglect, carelessness, or a moment of idiocy. (Yes, I know some of the following breaks HIPAA rules, but this is just an imaginary scenario, so go with it.)

1. Home confinement. As the owner of the broken wheelchair is likely going to be stuck at home more, so shall the offender be until a new CRT wheelchair is delivered or the broken wheelchair is appropriately repaired. At home, the offender shall sit in a standard manual wheelchair and shall propel to the bathroom, kitchen, etc. When not in the wheelchair, the offender shall be confined to bed. But the offender will be let out to…

2. Go to clinic and physician appointments. The offender shall be required to attend any seating clinic visits needed to measure and fit a new wheelchair, and any doctors’ appointments needed to get repairs or reorders qualified. The offender shall attend these appointments in that standard manual wheelchair and shall use dial-a-ride as transportation. Offenders shall also be required to visit the…

3. Funding specialist’s office, where the offender shall watch, listen, and offer support as the funding specialist makes calls, takes meetings, sends reminders, etc., in the effort to secure prior authorizations, continuous need documentation, medical justifications, etc., from physicians, insurance companies, clinicians, manufacturers, and also communicates with the client and the client’s family. If the wheelchair or any of its components are denied by the payor and the seating team decides to appeal, the offender also will be present for the appeals process. Eventually, the offender shall witness the…

4. Delivery process, where the chair is delivered, final adjustments are made, training is done, etc.

Okay, end of my legal daydream.

But when someone damages or loses someone else’s wheelchair, the most useful consequences would teach both empathy and responsibility, while demonstrating that losing a wheelchair often results in a loss of independence, as well as decreased mobility, safety, and inclusion for months.

A great real-world example of a such learning experience is Come Roll with Me, a program founded by Cathy Carver, PT, ATP/SMS, to introduce children to wheelchairs and the people who use them. Participants sit in loaner wheelchairs and then navigate restaurants, public restrooms, and other places that are too often inaccessible (and often filled with people who don’t understand what it’s like to live with a disability).

If courts could order this kind of first-hand education for people who break other people’s wheelchairs — and hold offenders financially responsible not just for repairs, but for loaner or replacement equipment, caregiver/support services, interim transportation costs, etc. — maybe people with disabilities would eventually live in a more compassionate and respectful world.

Maybe it’s worth a try.

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at

In Support of Upper-Extremity Positioning