Massachusetts Senate Passes Legislation To Help People With Disabilities Live Independently
In full transparency, the following press release was submitted to SOURCE media by the Senate President’s office.
BOSTON – 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 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.
“I have fought my entire career to make Massachusetts a more inclusive place for people of all abilities to live, work, and play,” said Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “It is especially fitting that the Senate has passed these bills on the same day that we adjourn in memory of Paul Spooner, a committed and tireless disability rights and inclusion activist working in MetroWest and a dear friend of mine. By helping us move closer to our goal of ensuring that all people have opportunities to live independently, we honor Paul’s legacy and make the Massachusetts a more compassionate and accessible Commonwealth. I want to thank the many Senators who worked to ensure the passage of these bills, including Senators Rodrigues, Lovely, Cronin, Moran, and Gomez.”
Having passed the Senate, the bills now go to the House of Representatives for consideration.
“The passages of these bills today speak volumes of the Senate’s long and unwavering commitment to making life better for people with disabilities,” said Senator Michael J. Rodrigues (D-Westport), chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “Thank you to Senate President Spilka for her steadfast leadership for putting the issues of accessibility and inclusion front and center, ensuring we do what’s right for our people, and thank you to Senators Lovely, Cronin, and Moran for your leadership on these critically important bills. Because of our collection today to support wheelchair users and recognize supported decision-making agreements, we have made our Commonwealth stronger and more inclusive.”
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.
“I am so grateful to Senate President Spilka for her commitment to expand consumer protections to support the independence and dignity of our disability community. This bill’s passage is an important step forward to protect wheelchair users and their families,”” said Senator John J. Cronin (D-Lunenberg), chair of the Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government. “The bill implements critical protections in the law to prevent wheelchair users from being stranded in their homes for prolonged periods when their wheelchair or mobility device becomes inoperable.”
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.
“I am incredibly proud that this life-changing legislation has advanced through the Senate,” said Senator Joanne B. Lovely (D-Salem), chair of the Senate Committee on Rules. “Supported decision-making agreements maximize the dignity, freedom, and independence of persons with disabilities and provide a proven, cost-effective, and less restrictive alternative to guardianship. Thank you, President Spilka, Chair Rodrigues, and the many advocates who worked tirelessly to move this bill forward. Everyone should have the opportunity to be the decision-maker of their own lives, and this legislation will empower many for whom that was not previously possible.”
“People with disabilities deserve the freedom to maintain their independence and dignity,” said Senator Susan L. Moran (D-Falmouth), chair of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure. “I’m proud to vote for this bill to enable supported decision making for people with disabilities, and take another strong step in supporting residents with disabilities in the Commonwealth.”
“I have had the opportunity, as the Senate Chair of Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities to meet with many individuals across our state who are both strong advocates for supported decision-making and could greatly benefit from this bill,” said Senator Adam Gomez (D-Springfield), Chair of the Senate Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities. “Supported decision-making is a no brainer that allows individuals, including those with disabilities and elders, to maintain their rights and independence, allowing them to choose one or more trusted advisors to provide assistance in making decisions about their lives. I am thrilled that this legislation is moving forward and I know it will change many lives.”
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.