Is it possible to get a free wheelchair in the USA? I was unsure until a friend of mine told me that another friend of his had managed to get a free wheelchair. Unfortunately, he did not know the details so knuckled down and did some research of my own. And yes, it is possible to get a free wheelchair. There are plenty of organizations countrywide that accept used wheelchairs as donations, clean them up, refurbish them and then loan them out free of charge. A loan can be for a few days or a few years; the only criteria is that the wheelchair is returned to the organization when you don’t need it anymore. That way the wheelchair keeps getting recycled and keeps helping another person in need.
When you rely on a wheelchair for mobility, being without one can have a devastating impact on your life. It goes much deeper than just losing your mobility and independence, it negatively impacts your self-confidence and can lead to depression. Not everyone can afford insurance, and even if you have insurance, you’re not guaranteed that they will pay for a wheelchair. And sometimes their approval process is far longer than you can afford to wait, so being able to loan a wheelchair until you get approval is heaven sent to many people.
When I started losing strength in my legs due to spinal nerve compression, I had to face the reality of becoming wheelchair bound. It was a life-changing moment for me that required massive mental and physical readjustment. Unfortunately, surgery was not an option due to other prevailing health conditions I have. I was very fortunate to have a wheelchair that I could use immediately because I had kept my late husband’s wheelchair in case I or someone else in the family might need it in future. But that got me thinking about what happens to people who, like me, suddenly need a wheelchair but who don’t have easy access to one and cannot afford to buy one either.
Fact is that until something touches our lives, most people don’t give it much thought; I certainly didn’t. That is why I was really shocked to learn that statistics show that there are 3.6 million wheelchair-bound people in the USA who depend on a wheelchair to do their daily tasks, get to and from work or school and to lead a normal life. I had now joined that number, and once I had the hang of the wheelchair, I got to fully appreciate the value and quality it added to my life. Where would I be without it?
The thing is if you have a wheelchair you can lead a fairly normal life. I say fairly normal because that depends on how wheelchair friendly your environment is. Many places still have to catch up, but then many others have got it right. Without a wheelchair you become totally dependent on other people, you cannot earn an income, and your life becomes severely limited. With a wheelchair, you regain your independence, you can work and earn a living, and your life becomes as full as you want it to be. A wheelchair gives back the ability that you have lost!
That’s what made me decide to do something for the many people who do not have the luxury of having a wheelchair, and I decided to write this article. I want to help anyone who needs a wheelchair but cannot afford one. I also want to encourage people who have wheelchairs they no longer use to donate them to these wonderful organizations so that they can breathe quality of life back into someone’s world.
Finding Free Wheelchairs Online
So this is what I found out about researching free wheelchairs online:
If you are doing an online search of your own, remember to include the state you live in, or that you will be visiting when you need the wheelchair. Most of the organizations that loan wheelchairs free of charge are community-based, and there is no single organization that controls how distribution is managed. In almost all cases you have to visit the organization or send someone on your behalf to collect the wheelchair because they cannot afford to deliver.
The word ‘free’ is freely used everywhere together with the word ‘wheelchair’, and for the most part, it is highlighted to offer a free assessment. Now that is great news if you can afford to buy a wheelchair, but if you can’t, it is of no value to you.
Also, there are wonderful organizations that supply wheelchairs to less fortunate people in developing countries, but not in the USA so read carefully because they will not be able to help you.
What is really surprising to me is how few companies that sell wheelchairs are involved in any type of community development or upliftment. I would have thought that companies that make their profits from selling wheelchairs and other mobility aids would be keen to chip in with their expertise to help those in need. Many of them do refurbish used wheelchairs, but then resell them at prices that people who are cash-strapped cannot afford. Clearly, they are not interested in lending a giving hand, so that was a bit of a harsh reality check!
Organizations That Offer Free or Wheelchairs in the USA
The organizations listed below offer free wheelchairs or loan wheelchairs to people in the USA who cannot afford a new one. The average cost of a new wheelchair is $500, and these organizations recognize that that figure is often beyond what many people can afford.
5 National Organizations that Distribute Free Wheelchairs:
These organizations mostly collaborate with local community-based organizations to facilitate distribution of wheelchairs to people who cannot afford them.
The Wheelchair Foundation
I want to start with the Wheelchair Foundation because they distribute new wheelchairs globally and also in the USA. In the USA they work together with the Salvation Army, goodwill industries, Catholic charities and other relief organizations to distribute new wheelchairs to people in the USA who cannot afford them. Part of the Wheelchair Foundations success is their buying power that is created by the funding they receive. Because they buy thousands of new wheelchairs at a time, they can get a wheelchair at a much lower price, and they are currently paying about $150 per wheelchair. You will not be able to get a wheelchair directly from the Wheelchair Foundation, but you could be given one of their wheelchairs through the Salvation Army, Catholic charities or goodwill industries in your area.
Direct Relief is another international charity that also services communities in the USA. They provide non-profit health centres and clinics in needy communities where more than 72% of the patients passing through their doors have a household income that is below the federal poverty level, and approximately 35% of the community cannot afford health insurance. Although their services are comprehensive, they do also provide wheelchairs free of charge to those who need them.
LifeNets Wheelchair Project
LifeNets is an international charity that runs a wheelchair project in the USA. The goal of the wheelchair project is to put wheelchairs that are not currently in use into the hands of someone who can benefit from them. The project is only for people who live in the USA and is designed to facilitate the exchange of wheelchairs between individuals at no cost. The project is not open for the use of vendors or distributors.
Muscular Dystrophy Association
The Muscular Dystrophy Association empowers families of those suffering from muscular dystrophy with services and support. They operate in hometowns across America and offer support groups, educational seminars, and durable medical equipment that includes refurbished wheelchairs and mobility scooters.
Chariots of Love
Chariots of Love is a non-profit organization that provides free wheelchairs to physically challenged children under the age of 21 in the USA. Through recycling education, grants and monetary donations, they raise funds to provide the wheelchairs to children that are uninsured, under-insured, or have not received the correct mobility equipment for their unique condition are eligible. They also fund repairs to pediatric wheelchairs and accessories. Click on the Chariots of Love website, and click on ‘Available Wheelchairs’ for more information.
30 Local Organizations where you can get a Wheelchair for Free:
Local organizations operate only in the region that they are based in, and generally will only provide a wheelchair on loan or for free to people who live in the area. Some of these organizations are national but have regional branches throughout the USA that service only the region where they are located.
Apart from the sites listed below, take a look at Pass It On. It is a website dedicated to promoting organizations that offer assistive technology, including wheelchairs to people with disabilities who cannot afford the assistive technologies they need. Their mission is to create a national network of to help medical reuse programs share and improve their services. They also aim to promote public awareness of the benefits of using and donating used assistive technology. Using the Pass It On website is really easy. You select the state that you live in, and the type of assistive technology you need (for a wheelchair you tick the ‘Mobility’ box), and the name and details of organizations will come up.
Here are 30 other websites that you can visit to find out more about their free wheelchair loan services:
Goodwill Industries in Arkansas offer a medical mobility loan program that in includes wheelchairs. They lend assistive living medical equipment to anyone in need free of charge on a temporary loan. Whether you are recovering from an injury or surgery, want to try equipment before buying it, or are waiting for insurance coverage approval, they will do their best to help.
Goodwill Industries in South Florida offer a medical mobility loan program that in includes wheelchairs. They lend assistive living medical equipment to anyone in need free of charge on a temporary loan. Whether you are recovering from an injury or surgery, want to try equipment before buying it, or are waiting for insurance coverage approval, they will do their best to help.
Goodwill Industries in Wabash Valley offer a medical mobility loan program that in includes wheelchairs. They lend assistive living medical equipment to anyone in need free of charge on a temporary loan. Whether you are recovering from an injury or surgery, want to try equipment before buying it, or are waiting for insurance coverage approval, they will do their best to help. You can visit their headquarters or look for a store close to you.
Chattanooga Goodwill Industries offer a medical mobility loan program that in includes wheelchairs. They lend assistive living medical equipment to anyone in need free of charge on a temporary loan. Whether you are recovering from an injury or surgery, want to try equipment before buying it, or are waiting for insurance coverage approval, they will do their best to help.
Goodwill Easterseals Gulf Coast offers a medical mobility loan program that in includes wheelchairs. They lend assistive living medical equipment to anyone in need free of charge on a temporary loan. Whether you are recovering from an injury or surgery, want to try equipment before buying it, or are waiting for insurance coverage approval, they will do their best to help.
Ohio Valley Goodwill Industries offer a medical mobility loan program that in includes wheelchairs. They lend assistive living medical equipment to anyone in need free of charge on a temporary loan. Whether you are recovering from an injury or surgery, want to try equipment before buying it, or are waiting for insurance coverage approval, they will do their best to help.
Great Lakes Loan Closets is an online directory of local organizations that offer free or low-cost medical equipment, including wheelchairs free of charge in the Great Lakes region, including Michigan, Northern Indiana and Wisconsin.
The Medical Loan Closet in Wichita serves the community by loaning durable medical equipment, including wheelchairs free of charge to the underserved and individuals who have issues with their insurance.
Resource Centre for Accessible Living in New York provides medical equipment on loan to individuals who cannot afford to buy their own or whose insurance does not cover the cost. They loan out equipment, including wheelchairs that have been donated, free of charge on a short and long-term basis. Three months is the usual length of time they loan out equipment, but this can always be extended if needed.
Access Alaska’s loan closet provides assistive technology and adaptive equipment, including wheelchairs to individuals with disabilities to increase their safety and independence in their homes and the community. They offer the service to people who are from low-income households and do not have the funds available to purchase the equipment, or whose health care insurance (private or public) do not cover the items. There is no charge to loan equipment.
Ability360 in Phoenix, Arizona has a loan closet for durable medical equipment, including wheelchairs free of charge. They offer the use of durable medical equipment to the community as needed.
Nicollet County in Minnesota run a short-term loan closet that provides a public service for people needing personal care equipment, including wheelchairs. Users must be a resident of the area or own property or land in Nicollet County, and equipment is loaned for free on a short-term basis not to exceed six months.
Soroptimist International in Washington run a medical loan closet that loans new and used medical equipment, including wheelchairs free of charge to people living in the Sequim school district.
Visiting Nurse and Hospice Care in Santa Barbarais a free community resource that loans medical equipment, including wheelchairs, free of charge to the public.
The Right Service at the Right Time in Florida offers a Goodwill loan program to people with disabilities as well. They offer medical mobility equipment, including wheelchairs to anyone who needs it, free of charge for a limited time.
The website of the Department of Disabilities in Maryland lists organizations around Maryland that loan used medical devices, including wheelchairs free of charge to the public.
The South Metro Medical Equipment Loan Closet is an initiative of the Hope United Methodist Church in Denver, Colorado. They provide used durable medical equipment, including wheelchairs for a donation to people over 18 years of age who are in need in the south metro area of Denver. Equipment loans are short-term for up to 3 months.
The Hospice Support of Fauquier County in Virginia run a medical loan closet that loans new and used medical equipment, including wheelchairs free of charge to the senior population of Fauquier, Rappahannock and Culpeper counties as well as adjoining areas in Western Prince William County.
211CNY in New York run a loan closet that loans a variety of equipment, including wheelchairs free of charge to individuals with disabilities.
The Loan Closet of Howard County in Maryland provides refurbished equipment, including wheelchairs free of charge to older adults, caregivers, children and adults with disabilities to improve their overall quality of life.
The Windham Health Council in New York run a medical equipment loan closet that loans medical equipment, including wheelchairs free of charge to people in need in Windham and surrounding areas.
The Regional Centre for Independent Living in New York offers free resources that enable people with all types of disabilities to borrow equipment and assistive technology, including wheelchairs, free of charge for a limited time.
The Yarmouth Health Council in Maine loans health aides, including wheelchairs, free of charge to any Yarmouth resident.
Plainfield Township in Michigan run a loan closet for people with temporary or transitional disabilities. They offer medical aids and equipment, including wheelchairs on loan free of charge to residents for up to three months.
Marcellus in New York run the Marcellus Health-Loan Closet that offers medical equipment, including wheelchairs on loan free of charge to residents of the Marcellus Central School District.
Kenosha County in Wisconsin run a medical equipment loan closet that loans medical equipment, including wheelchairs free of charge to residents.
The Grace Episcopal Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa runs a medical equipment lending that includes wheelchairs. Most of the people who utilize the service either do not have insurance or have plans that only partially cover such equipment. The church does not charge anything for the loan of the medical equipment; however, there may be a small deposit required for certain motorized items, like motorized wheelchairs, to ensure they are returned in good condition for the next person to use.
The Etowah United Methodist Church in Etowah County, Alabama operates a medical loan closet with the mission of offering “durable medical equipment designed to aid a person’s mobility and assist in their maintenance of personal hygiene and sanitary conditions, during periods of shorter-term illness and recovery and periods of longer-term disability”. They offer medical equipment, including wheelchairs on loan free of charge to anyone in need for as long as they need it.
The Newark Central Christian Church in Newark in New Jersey runs a medical loan closet that offers medical equipment, including wheelchairs free of charge to people of all ages.
The Boulder County Community Services Department in Colorado runs the Niwot Loan Closet that provides equipment, including wheelchairs on a temporary basis to people with disabilities in need. All loan closets are on a donation basis.
How to Find Organization that Offer Free Wheelchairs
As you can see, there are plenty of not-for-profit organizations that are willing to help people who cannot afford to buy a wheelchair. To find them just takes some time searching on the internet. If none of the places listed above are in your residential area, let me tell you how to find organizations that are. The two best key-word searches to use are “goodwill” and “loan closet”. Don’t use “wheelchair” unless you want to be going through pages and pages of irrelevant information about wheelchairs, wheelchair manufactures and wheelchair sales outlets. Also don’t use the word “free”; you will end up searching forever and getting nowhere.
Once you have entered one of your keywords, use the search engine’s ‘tools’ option to refine your search and add the name of the area where you live. Don’t refine the location too much, because many of these organizations will supply wheelchairs on free loan to people who live in the surrounding areas as well. Most of these organizations will go out of their way to help someone in need.
I have a feeling that many of the organizations that offer free wheelchairs on loan don’t have search engine optimized websites because they are mostly charitable organizations that rely on donations. So what I suggest you do if you don’t find an organization close to your town or city, is that you call an organization that is close to where you are and ask if they know of similar organizations in your area.
If you still don’t come right and your life will really be improved if you get a decent wheelchair, why not try social media? Prepare a short video clip, or have a few good photos taken that put your plight across. Write a good bit of text explaining why you need a wheelchair and why you cannot afford to buy one. Never feel ashamed of asking for help; there is no shame in not being able to afford an expensive item like a wheelchair, and there is no shame in wanting to improve your life.
There are thousands of good people out there who would be only too glad to help someone, but they don’t know how. Your post could just be read by someone who knows of an organization that offers free wheelchairs. Apart from that, your post could be spotted by someone who has a wheelchair that no one is using any more stored away. Remember, if you don’t ask for something in life you won’t get anything.
People with disabilities sometimes feel as if the world is incentive to their plight, and that is not without reason, but there are many people and organizations in the USA that are dedicated to making the lives of people with disabilities easier. Find them and reach out. You don’t have to struggle along when there are so many people who care and are willing to help.
I know how you feel and I still sometimes feel invisible in a world of people for whom mobility is as simple as blinking an eye. But don’t allow yourself to think that way. Don’t think that if you reach out, you might be a burden. If you reach out to the right people, you will be pleasantly surprised to see that they see you for who you really are, and not your disability. They work with these issues every day, and they do what they do because they want to contribute to the lives of others.
Since losing my ability to walk, I have come to see the world in a completely different light. Apart from having to come to terms with the loss of my mobility, I have had to adapt to the fact that the world suddenly reacted differently to me. I was used to being part of the crowd, all going along in life without a second thought. But now I am regarded as a disabled person. That took some getting used to, but after mulling it over (and over and over), I realized that I am now disabled, but that the person that I am has not changed. I am still the same person that I always was. All that has changed is that I can no longer walk. I can choose to allow the reactions of other people to make me unhappy, or I can continue living to my full potential like I always have.
So if you need a wheelchair and you don’t have the money to buy one, ask someone to help you out. The organizations that I have listed above and many others that I have not listed won’t look at you in a bad light for reaching out; they understand, and that is why they do what they do.
Reach out so that you can live your best life, independent and in the thick of it all, just like it is supposed to be.