Friday, 29 August 2014

The special needs price tag

Have you ever looked at the cost of special needs equipment verses the cost of similar equipment for non disabled people? Unless you have reason to then probably not.

Let's start with a buggy. Is there a 3 year old out there that doesn't ride in a buggy? Ok there probably is but they are in a tiny minority. So what do you pay for a buggy for a non disabled children? Well you can get a decent, lightweight branded buggy that will give your child a comfy ride for £100-£150. You'll have loads of choice with that much to spend. Want a full travel system then you can be looking at around £500-£600. Again you'll have plenty choice and be looking at some of the top brands with loads of features to provide comfort, convenience and it'll probably fit in the boot of a standard car.

Now, let's say you need a buggy for a disabled child. It's a whole different story. Fortunately our local wheelchair services provides a basic buggy. And when I say basic I mean basic. Want a rain cover, you'll have to buy that yourself. Now the buggy might not look basic but all the features are there out of necessity rather than the users convenience. So how much does a special needs buggy cost? As J's buggy was supplied by wheelchair services it's hard to say. However, I did see the price listed as about £1800. Then you need to add on the cost of the additional supports J requires. I don't know how much they cost but we wanted a tray so J could play with toys while in his buggy. We had to buy that separately and just the tray was over £100. You could get a decent buggy for a non disabled children for that much.

So what happens if you want something a bit better than the standard buggy? Well, that's when you find out just how much of a rip off anything with the special needs tag can be. We're an active family and enjoy walks in the local woods. We'd like a buggy that won't rattle J so much he cries and throws up when taken down paths in the woods. I'm not talking about anything too rough. There are some nice walks in the woods that follow nicely prepared paths but this is too much for J's buggy with it's heavy frame and solid rubber wheels. We found a buggy that would be suitable to take round the woods and it even converted into a bike trailer which would be perfect as we also enjoy cycling. It's big and bulky and looks like someone has welded a couple of bmxs together and fitted a bucket seat, but it would work and it would last a good few years. We arranged to try one and it was great. We were and really happy to have found something we could use to get J out and about. The rep got back to us with a quote for the buggy and the extra supports required for J and our hearts sank. The total cost was over £4000. The frame on it's own is nearly £2000 but for me the big surprise was the cost of the extra bits. Some bits you'd think were a necessity like the handles, these were over £200 alone. A cussion for his back a five point harness were over £100 each.

Now I do have a basic understanding of the economies of scale and understand that these things that aren't as mass produced as the branded buggies I referred to earlier. They will cost more but £4000 still seems excessive. If I wanted to take a non disabled child out for a ride in a bike trailer I could get a very nice bike and top of the range trailer and still have enough money left over for a week in centre parcs to use it.

It seems to be the same story with other products as well. You can get stuffed toys that sing or do something when you press a button hidden in the hand or tummy of the toy. You can also buy these switch adapted so that you can plug a switch it so that a disabled child can enjoy the same toy. The adapted toy will usually cost about double the price of the standard toy. I'd love to see manufacturers integrate a switch port into the battery box. The cost at the manufacturing stage would be pennies and would make adapted toys a lot easier to get hold of. It would be a dream come true for a special needs parent to take their child to a toy shop and find a toy they like then take it home and just plug a switch in. It would also make it a lot easier for friends and relatives to buy toys as gifts.

You want to dance with your disabled child at a party? Yep, that can cost you £270 for an upsee.
This is just scratching the surface of the excess cost of special needs equipment. Dig a bit deeper and you'll soon see that pretty much anything special needs comes with the special needs price tag.

Personally, I think it comes down to who usually pays for these things. As the price is so high parents usually have to apply to charities to help with the cost. This means the company's providing the equipment or toys can charge whatever they want. If the product is essential to the day to day life of the user then it will either be provided by the NHS or funded by an organisation with deep pockets. Or if a parent wants something nice for their child then they'll find a way to pay for it. As long as this is the case then the manufacturer or supplier doesn't need to look at ways of, for example, producing a cushion that doesn't cost £100.

We're not in a position where we can walk into a shop and choose from a wide range of products and then choose what fits budget and purpose the best. No, we're usually very limited to one or two options, each with their own astronomical price tag.

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