Woman Sitting on Free Wheelchair with Friend

How to Get a Free Wheelchair Guide (6 Simple Ways)

If you’ve got mobility issues but you can’t afford to buy an electric or manual wheelchair, we truly empathize with the difficult situation you’re in. Modern wheelchairs can cost a lot – it’s not unusual for any high quality wheelchair to be priced as much as a month’s salary or more – so it’s understandable that not everyone can afford one.

The good news is, there are ways to get around the hefty price tags.

Whether you’re permanently disabled or temporarily impaired, we believe you should not be forced to go without a wheelchair regardless of how much money you have in the bank. Thankfully, there are a number of great charities and programs out there that are committed to helping people in need get the mobility aids they require so that the can live their lives to the fullest again

1. Free Wheelchair for Seniors and the Disabled Programs

Many communities offer a free wheelchair scheme for seniors and mobility impaired individuals who cannot afford to buy one. These programs are usually run by local charities or church organisations. They use money from fundraising drives to buy wheelchairs and give them to those in need of support.

Word of mouth is a good way to find out about these programs. If you’re part of any local support groups or forums, ask around. You may be surprised at the amount of assistance that’s available to you. Of course, you can also use the internet to research free wheelchair programs in your town or city.

2. Government Assistance Programs (Medicare & Medicaid)

It’s worth checking whether you are eligible for a free wheelchair as part of Medicare Part B (this can include DME electric wheelchairs too!). If you fulfill certain requirements, you may qualify for a free chair or a substantial discount on a wheelchair or scooter. Usually you will need a doctor’s note confirming the extent of your mobility problems.

Similarly, Medicaid sometimes covers the cost of a scooter, manual wheelchair, or electric wheelchair if it is deemed essential for daily functions. However, Medicaid eligibility varies from state to state, so you will want to contact or visit your local state Medicaid agency to learn more.

Whilst manual wheelchairs are usually more accessible, the criteria for receiving a free electric wheelchair through Medicare/Medicaid are generally as follows:

  • Applicant must require the use of an electric wheelchair to perform daily functions primarily in their home;
  • Applicant must be in receipt of a doctor’s note confirming the extent of their mobility impairment;
  • Applicant must have fulfilled all the listed requirements on their Medicaid/Medicare application.

However, if you don’t qualify, or if your application for a wheelchair is rejected – don’t lose hope: The next best step is to consult with a local, state, or national charity or organisation. There are many schemes which gift brand new or carefully restored wheelchairs to members of their community who cannot afford to buy one, such as:

3. The Wheelchair Foundation

The Wheelchair Foundation is a fantastic charity that exists to supply free wheelchairs to those with mobility problems who cannot buy one for themselves.

Founded in 2000, and since then delivering over 750,000 wheelchairs across 150 different countries, the charity’s mission is to “deliver a wheelchair to every child, teen and adult in the world who needs one, but cannot afford one”, sharing “Hope, Mobility and Independence.”

In the USA, the Wheelchair Foundation works with The Salvation Army, Goodwill Industries, Catholic Charities, and other relief organizations to distribute wheelchairs to those in need. Visit wheelchairfoundation.org or contact one of these organizations to learn more.

4. The Free Wheelchair Mission

The Free Wheelchair Mission is a Christian charity that accepts donated wheelchairs and gives them to mobility impaired people who are in need. They are a really big charity that has given away over 1 million wheelchairs over the past two decades.

However, it’s worth noting that the Free Wheelchair Mission specifically focuses on non-USA countries, so if you are in the USA this charity is unlikely to be able to help you. To find out more about this charity, visit freewheelchairmission.org.

5. Lifenets Wheelchair Project

The Lifenets Wheelchair Project is similar to the other charities listed but it only exists as an online organisation, and is a lot smaller in scope.

The website’s platform allows users to list wheelchair donation and request wheelchairs, in an attempt to match supply and demand for wheelchairs for those in need.

The project also encourages beneficiaries to re-gift the wheelchairs they receive from the charity after they’re no longer needed. In this way, it operates a self-sustaining model of donation. Find out more at lifenetswheelchairproject.org.

6. Your Insurance Company

Finally, if you have health insurance, it is worth investigating whether your policy and provider will fund the cost of an electric or manual wheelchair. Many plans, when medically necessary, will cover the cost of a wheelchair. The best way to find out if this applies to you is to contact your insurance provider or search your insurance policy for the term “Durable Medical Equipment”. Even if your insurance company can’t offer you a free wheelchair, they might be able to help with the costs.

If all of the above fails, feel free to contact us and we will try to put you in contact with an organization able to help. For example, in West-Michigan, Alternatives in Motion are often able to step in with assistance if you’re struggling. If you have some money, but you just want to alleviate the burden, it might also be worth checking out our article here that explores minimizing costs when purchasing an electric wheelchair.

Editor’s Note: If you are looking for a free mobility scooter, please see our guide here.

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Margaret Sellars
Margaret Sellars
Occupational Therapist Margaret Sellars contributes to Mobility Deck as an expert on mobility products like wheelchairs, scooters, and walkers. Newly retired, Margaret spends her spare time doing freelance writing from the comfort of her home in Maine. Given her extensive knowledge and professional background, Margaret does the vast majority of the writing for Mobility Deck - so if you have non-tech related questions, she's the one to ask!
Margaret Sellars
Margaret Sellars
Occupational Therapist Margaret Sellars contributes to Mobility Deck as an expert on mobility products like wheelchairs, scooters, and walkers. Newly retired, Margaret spends her spare time doing freelance writing from the comfort of her home in Maine. Given her extensive knowledge and professional background, Margaret does the vast majority of the writing for Mobility Deck - so if you have non-tech related questions, she's the one to ask!

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