There are many reasons to rent a wheelchair or scooter.
"The most popular reason is if someone with a mobility concern who already is a scooter user needs to travel from one place to another, and taking the equipment with them is problematic," said Cheryl Thibert of Scootaround, a company that serves more than 500 locations in North America with a 24-hour hotline.
"It’s not so much the difficulty, it’s the risk that’s taken when you put it on an airline. For instance, they don’t know about the equipment, so they can’t take as much care as if you were handling it yourself."
Say you’re visiting Hollywood, Las Vegas, or Orlando, Fla., or another location with many sights to see, but you can’t walk long distances. Renting a chair can mean the difference between having a wonderful vacation with your family and being stuck in the hotel room by yourself watching "Home Alone" on cable.
"A lot of people are attending large conventions and organized events, and if you want to see all of the exhibitors, you’ll be putting miles on, so it’s a stress preventer," Thibert said.
Another good time to rent is when your wheelchair or scooter breaks down, leaving you with no means of mobility. The place that’s repairing your chair should provide you with a loaner chair. Otherwise you’ll have to rent one.
If you’re interested in purchasing a certain model of wheelchair or scooter, you can rent it and try it at home, work or school without commitment. Or you can rent-to-own, meaning that the rental fee will apply to the purchase, said Brian Schultz, who specializes in renting scooters, wheelchairs and oxygen at Desert Medical Equipment in Las Vegas.
"With renting, you don’t have to come up with the money right away," Schultz said. "If you buy a middle-of-the-line scooter you’re looking at about $2,000, maybe more. If you do a rental weekly, you only have to come up with, say, $125."
Need to rent? Make sure your medical supplier has experience renting equipment, or look in the local Yellow Pages under "Wheelchairs & Scooters" or "Medical Equipment & Supplies." Your physical therapist is also a good resource for information about local equipment dealers.
Going on a trip? Your supplier will set you up with an equipment dealer located near your destination that offers rentals. To find rental companies, check the Internet. If you’re going to Las Vegas, search for "scooter rental Las Vegas."
Or find an MDA office near your destination by using the zip code locator on MDA’s Web site. Call and ask for information regarding options for travelers with disabilities in need of durable medical equipment.
Of the medical equipment suppliers that rent, most rent more than just wheelchairs and scooters, allowing you to meet all your needs at once. You can rent supplies such as oxygen, bath chairs, Hoyer lifts, hospital beds and walkers. On the other hand, a company that doesn’t specialize in renting wheelchairs and scooters may be more expensive and have a smaller selection of chairs for rent.
Some companies near popular vacation spots rent beach wheelchairs.
Companies such as Care Vacations and Travel O2 (see "Rental Resources") offer a variety of medical devices to rent.
Advanced Aeromedical focuses on renting oxygen and respiratory supplies to travelers around the world. Also offering mobility equipment for rent, the company can deliver to almost any destination, and is an Air Ambulance coordinator.
Most companies won’t rent out bathroom equipment because of hygiene concerns. States may have certain requirements as to what companies can and can’t rent.
You can rent a basic scooter for around $40 per day with savings the longer you rent, and a deposit of around $50.
There aren’t a lot of assistance programs available for short-term rentals, Thibert said. Most private insurance companies won’t pay for a rental, and Medicare and Medicaid pay only if it’s medical necessity.
Thibert recommends booking a reservation seven to 14 days in advance.
"If people wait until the last minute in a busy vacation destination, we can’t guarantee availability," she said. "Booking three months in advance gives them the comfort of knowing there’s a piece of equipment reserved in their name."
When Andy Vladimir travels to places he knows won’t be accessible to his scooter, he rents a manual wheelchair from his medical equipment supplier. For cruises he rents hospital beds from Care Vacations.
"I make arrangements weeks in advance and call the day before I’m leaving to be sure it’ll be there," said Vladimir, who has myotonic muscular dystrophy and writes Quest’s "To Boldly Go" column.
When making a reservation, find out which models are available to rent. It’s the company’s job to ask the right questions to determine the type of mobility device you should rent. The dealer will ask for your height and weight to see if you need something other than the standard 18-by-18-inch seat.
As for individual seating needs, some rental chairs can be equipped with your own cushion but can’t be further customized because they’re used by many different people.
Find out the age of your chosen scooter as well as the dimensions, Vladimir said. You don’t want to be stuck with a rental that’s too wide to fit through the cruise ship’s cabin door.
Another obvious yet crucial tip is to make sure your vehicle can transport your rented mobility device. If you need to rent a wheelchair-accessible van, just ask the company for some referrals.
The delivery cost often is included in the rental fee. You just have to arrange pick-up and drop-off times, and your scooter can be delivered to your house, the airport, a cruise ship port or another location.
"Make sure the company has 24-hour service," Schultz advised. "When you’re here in Vegas and something breaks down and you are out at midnight, you definitely want to be able to get a hold of that supplier."
Most places will fix the problem or bring a replacement scooter free of charge.
Ask about rental insurance. Some rental companies have it, others don’t. If you don’t have it and you run your scooter into a tree, you’re responsible for the damages. Most places have you sign a form.
To avoid potential problems, you want to take good care of the rental. Most companies like you to charge a power chair or scooter every night. Ask the rental agency for other advice on caring for your wheels.