On May 29, Oregon became the first state in the nation to install wheelchair charging stations in its capitol building, granting power wheelchairs users a much needed option if they run low on battery.
The stations are the innovation of Darrin Umbarger, a wheelchair user with multiple sclerosis who is a native of Pendleton, Oregon. Umbarger is CEO of Clearview Mediation and Disability Resource Center, and a board member of Disability Rights of Oregon.
“The idea came to mind a couple years ago,” says Umbarger. “One of my biggest fears as a wheelchair user is being out and about and having my batteries run dead. Not only does this affect me, but it affects my friends and family who are with me. If I need to leave a location to charge, then my friends and family have to leave also.”
In 2015, Umbarger approached his local county transportation fund committee about putting eight to 10 charging units around the city of Pendleton to trial the equipment. The committee granted his request and the charging stations were installed in the city’s local parks.
“The stations are equipped with a standard power cord and a basic [24v] charging unit,” says Umbarger. “Most individuals in wheelchairs that are high end and need special chargers, carry those chargers with them. They would only need the power cord to connect their charger.”
After initial success with the units, Umbarger received another disability inclusion grant through the Oregon Office on Disability and Health and the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors to expand the locations of the charging stations. Recently, a county in Ohio ordered and installed the units in its county buildings.
Umbarger hopes that Oregon’s decision to install them in the statehouse is just the start: “Parks, shopping malls, casinos, zoos, grocery stores, fairs, libraries, medical facilities, just to name a few,” he says. “These wheelchair charging stations will provide individuals in wheelchairs confidence to be independent in their communities.”