Nonprofit Works To Get Assistive Devices To Utahns At Fraction Of The Cost

Nov 20, 2013

In a warehouse near downtown Salt Lake City, used wheelchairs, scooters and other motorized assistive devices are given a second life.

Used assistive devices fill CReATE's warehouse in Salt Lake City. The chairs covered in plastic are ready for pickup by clients.

Citizens Reutilizing Assistive Technology Equipment — or CReATE for short — is a statewide service, and part of the Utah Assistive Technology Program, run by the Center for Persons with Disabilities on the Utah State University campus. CReATE takes donated assistive devices and parts and refurbishes them before giving them to those in need. They charge a one-time service fee for the devices.

“Nothing goes out of here for more than $500," said Tom Boman, CReATE wheelchair and scooter technician. "This chair will be a $250 service fee, and then it’s the cost of the batteries. This is easily, when it was new, a $6,000 to $8,000 chair, and it’s still got, I would say, easily 70 percent of its life left in it.”

Boman was fixing up a motorized chair for a client in Utah Valley. After steam washing the wheels, fixing some bearings and replacing the seat, the chair will be ready to go.

Technician Tom Boman works on a power chair for a client in Utah Valley.

No insurance or proof of disability is required to receive a chair from CReATE, but there is an evaluation process. CReATE makes arrangements for clients to come to the facility so they can be fitted to the chair that’s right for them, according to program coordinator Alma Burgess.

"After the measurements and whatever information that we need to take from them, we take that information and then go on out into the warehouse and see if we have a device that's already been refurbished in our inventory," Burgess said.

If CReATE doesn’t have a device that fits the client, that’s where Boman comes in. He’ll refurbish a device so that it’s the right fit for the right person.

Vicki Long lives in Provo and works for the state of Utah with the Division of Services for People with Disabilities. She said she had heart surgery six or seven years ago, and the medication given to her after the surgery affected her muscles. She was using her mother’s old power chair to get around at her job, but when she needed a new one, she got in contact with CReATE.

"I was really surprised, because I was actually just expecting, you know, if there's one that works I'll take it because I was so desperate for a chair that would work," Long said. "He was like, 'No, let's see if we can find you something or make you something that would fit your body better,' and that's what they did."

Long said her insurance would not cover a new chair after her mother’s started having problems. According to Burgess, insurance companies might not cover a new assistive device for up to five years.

"And that's the void that we fill, is the people who don't have insurance or the people who have the insurance and it hasn't been that five years before they can get a new one," Burgess said. "So we can fill that gap and help them out."

Burgess said CReATE has seen an increase in devices given out per month. The service has gone up from two or three devices a month to four or five.

Spare parts for mobility assistive devices line the walls at CReATE's warehouse in Salt Lake City.

"That doesn't seem like a lot, but to that one individual that receives a piece of mobility equipment, providing them independence; that means a lot to them," Burgess said. 

Long, who said she paid $464 for her new chair when her old one would’ve cost $1,600 to replace, said she was very blessed.

"They are so nice to you, and, 'Do you need this, could you use that?' You know, they really wanted to make the whole experience just as easy and as smooth as possible," she said.

Eric Jungblut is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism at Utah State University.