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Free wheelchairs available locally

Area residents suffering from the discomfort of a handicap thatlimits their mobility may have the opportunity to boost theirability to travel under a program providing free wheelchairs tothose in need.

Free wheelchairs are available at AbilityWorks, Inc. to arearesidents through a partnership between the Mississippi Departmentof Rehabilitation Services and the Wheelchair Foundation ofMississippi.

Facility Manager Randall King said AbilityWorks has nearly 130wheelchairs available for people who meet a few relatively loosecriteria.

“We’re just trying to get the word out that we have themavailable,” he said.

To qualify, a person must have a recognized disability that ispermanent in nature and a low income. The applicant must also signa waiver releasing the providers from any liability of injuryresulting from the wheelchairs.

There are no strict guidelines on what constitutes low income,King said.

“We can be the judge of that,” he said. “We want to be able togive a chair to everyone who truly needs one.”

The chairs are very basic, King said, but should meet the needsof a disabled person.

“They don’t have any bells or whistles, like a headrest,” hesaid. “It’s just a very basic chair.”

The chairs are available in 14-, 16-, 18- and 20-inch widths,King said. However, more wheelchairs are available in some widthsthan others.

The agency has given away 10 wheelchairs since the programopened about two weeks ago, said Jennifer Clark, an AbilityWorksemployee who is assisting with the project.

“We’ve been trying to get the word out to churches and nonprofitorganizations,” Clark said.

Applicants for the wheelchairs should call the agency at833-3201 to set an appointment, King said.

“I’d like to give the whole 128 chairs away,” he said.

It is possible for the agency to get more chairs should they beneeded, King said. The chairs available at the agency now wereallocated from a total supply of 800 chairs distributed among 16agencies throughout the state.

The wheelchairs were donated to the foundation by a privatecompany, which purchased the chairs prior to Hurricane Katrina toprepare for expected casualties as a public service. When thechairs were not needed, the company contacted the foundation aboutdonating the chairs and the foundation chose RehabilitationServices to distribute them.