In November, the Massachusetts State Senate passed two bills to help people with disabilities live independently in Massachusetts. First, An Act expanding wheelchair warranty protections for consumers with disabilities takes steps to ensure that people with physical disabilities who rely on wheelchairs are not stranded for long time periods in the event of the breakdown of an in-warranty wheelchair. Second, An Act relative to supported decision-making for agreements for certain adults with disabilities recognizes supported decision-making as an alternative to guardianship, allowing certain people with disabilities to retain greater decision-making power over their lives.
Expanding Wheelchair Warranties
Wheelchair repair poses substantial problems for people with physical disabilities in Massachusetts. In the event of a wheelchair breaking or otherwise failing to function, it is not uncommon for those who use wheelchair to need to wait for weeks for repairs, including for wheelchairs under warranty. This leaves these individuals stranded at home and unable to go to work, school, medical appointments, grocery shopping, or elsewhere. This creates a crisis for individuals and families and often exacerbates other health conditions. Existing state law does not set any timeline for assessing repairs or require dealers to offer wheelchairs on loan within a fixed time period.
Legislation passed by the Senate today addresses these problems by strengthening consumer protections for those who use wheelchairs. The legislation requires that wheelchair manufacturers, lessors and dealers provide consumers with written notification of the warranty for their wheelchairs, and increases the minimum duration for an express warranty on wheelchairs to two years. If an in-warranty wheelchair stops functioning, the bill requires that manufacturers, lessors, and dealers assess the wheelchair within three days, provide a temporary wheelchair on loan within four days, and cover collateral costs to the user.
To enforce these new requirements, the bill authorizes the state attorney general and consumers to commence legal actions against any violation of provisions protecting wheelchair users from unfair and deceptive business practices relating to warranty-fulfillment.
Independent living through supported decision-making agreements
Supported decision-making is an alternative to guardianship for individuals with an intellectual or development disability, dementia, or mental health diagnosis. Unlike in traditional guardianship, where a guardian makes medical, financial, or other life decisions for a person with disabilities, supported decision-making allows an individual with a disability to make his or her own decisions with the support of a designated person or team of trusted supporters. In such an agreement, ‘supporters’ assist in communicating and understanding decisions but cannot override an individuals’ own choices.
The legislation passed by the Senate today legally recognizes supported decision-making agreements, acknowledges them as a viable alternative to guardianship for some individuals, and establishes guardrails to ensure that these agreements keep an individuals’ best interests at heart. In cases where there is evidence of undue influence or coercion, the law renders such decision-making agreements invalid. The legislation permits members of the public, and requires mandated reporters, to petition the Probate and Family court to revoke or suspend a supported decision-making agreement in cases where there is suspicion of abuse, neglect or exploitation.
Under the bill, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services will create training on supported decision-making, and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will assist in informing students and their families or guardians about supported decision-making as needed.
Having passed the Senate, the bills now go to the House of Representatives for consideration.