Friedman Joins Senate in Passing Legislation to Help People with Disabilities Live Independently

Senate bills support wheelchair users, recognize supported decision-making agreements

(BOSTON – 11/03/2022) The Massachusetts State Senate on Thursday 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 wheelchair users 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.

“I am proud of the Senate for passing these two very important initiatives today,” said Senator Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington), Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “Ensuring that wheelchairs, an essential medical device, have strong warranty protections and allowing our residents to have greater decision-making power is necessary in our work to guarantee that people with disabilities are able to live their life with as much freedom as possible here in the Commonwealth. I hope that these two bills are taken up in the House soon so they can be signed into law.”

Expanding Wheelchair Warranties

Wheelchair repair poses substantial problems for people with a mobility or physical disability in Massachusetts. In the event of a wheelchair breaking or otherwise failing to function, it is not uncommon for wheelchair users to wait 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 wheelchair users. 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 the 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 their 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.