She’s crossing a busy Vancouver street, and suddenly her motorized wheelchair stops working.

She’s in traffic. She’s stressed. And she’s been left in a dangerous situation.

Tessa Schmidt, who has cerebral palsy, is entirely dependent on her wheelchair to get around.

“Without the wheelchair, I am incapable of leaving my house, of transferring on and off the toilet, of going to the bathroom,” she explained in an interview with CTV News.

But Schmidt, 30, said the wheelchair has broken down dozens of times since she received it a couple years ago. The chair was funded through BC’s Social Development and Poverty Reduction Ministry.

“It stalled out in my bathroom, leaving me unable to leave the bathroom until I could get someone to come and help,” she said. “It’s also stalled out on buses, leaving me unable to get off the bus and leaving the bus driver unable to help me because it’s not within their mandate.”

She said the incidents leave her “in a state of panic and distress.”

Danielle Main works with Tessa training guide dogs at Leash of Hope.

“I have seen Tessa in many dangerous situations because of this chair,” Main said.

Main, who describes herself as “low-vision blind,” said she’s had to help Schmidt on more than one occasion.

“We’ve been in these precarious situations where I’ve had to literally fold up my cane and have her give me vocal cue instructions on how to push her back to safety, sometimes crossing streets, with this 550-pound wheelchair,” she said.

Schmidt wants the ministry to provide her with a new chair.

Instead, she was recently sent a letter saying repairs are a result of “misuse.”

“You are using your chair…to train service dogs, driving it over rougher terrain and sandy areas while hanging items from joystick and/or the swing-away arms,” the letter read.

It goes on to say that if “the misuse continues…the ministry may not fund the repairs.”

Schmidt denies abusing the chair, saying her dog training work is almost exclusively done on paved areas and that the only thing she hangs from the chair are her keys.

“The damage that has occurred to this chair is usual wear and tear of a heavy user,” she said.

Main agrees.

“She’s ended up with a lemon piece of equipment and their response is too bad, so sad,” Main said.

CTV News contacted the ministry responsible. In a statement, the ministry said it couldn’t get into specifics because of privacy concerns.

“Generally, the ministry provides wheelchairs for ministry clients, and covers the costs of repairs when a wheelchair is deemed medically essential to achieve or maintain basic mobility,” the statement reads. “The ministry will be reaching out to this individual to try to resolve their concerns about her.”

For Schmidt, the only way to resolve her concerns is with a new chair – but the ministry’s earlier letter said she’s not eligible until 2026.


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