A GOVERNMENT funding shortfall has forced a California Gully man to reach out to the community for help in buying a new wheelchair.
Jason Dean suffered a spinal cord injury after breaking his neck in a jumping castle incident in 2006 and is wheelchair bound.
His new state-of-the-art chair is worth $22,000 and arrived this month.
It was funded courtesy of a grant from the Department of Human Services and a group helping to support people with spinal cord injuries.
Mr Dean says his favourite feature is a lift function.
It can raise him to other people’s head heights, has multiple benefits around the home and, he says, most importantly it allows him to catch all the action at a sporting match.
Mr Dean received about $8000 in government assistance from its State-Wide Equipment Program (SWEP) towards the purchase of a new chair.
"It came down to (the old one) got too expensive for them to have to keep fixing it," he said.
"It was more than $4000 to replace the motor, electrics and updates on the chair, so they put in $8000 for a new chair.
"But there was still a huge gap for the rest of it."
Despite the government help, adding $4000 of his own money and receiving another couple of thousand from a local club, Mr Dean realised he was still short.
Mr Dean reached out to Foundation 97 for help - a group run by Bendigo couple Noel and Tracey Clarke which helps to bridge funding gaps for non-funded Victorians with spinal cord injuries.
Mr and Mrs Clarke, along with Department of Human Services Loddon area case manager Jasmine Price helped Jason Dean with his grant applications.
In June, through the Youngcare grants program, Mr Dean received a grant for $7000 - which finalised payment for the new chair.
Mr Dean said the process highlighted the gap between the maximum amount of funding available to him and the real costs.
"As you can see, SWEP put $8000 towards it - there’s a huge gap between that and the price of an actual chair," he said.
Ms Price said the grants process was complicated.
"The actual chair can’t be ordered until SWEP have confirmation of the remaining gap. So in this case it was quite a significant gap," she said.
"But Jason couldn’t get the chair ordered until we could confirm we could get that funding."
Mrs Clarke said the process was alarming and unfortunately, Mr Dean was not alone.
"I just find it incredibly alarming that someone who desperately needs something has to go through this whole process of having to involve five organisations to actually achieve something that’s urgent," she said.
"This is very concerning.
"The whole reason Foundation 97 formed is that there are people out there who go from wages and incomes to nothing - virtually a pension - and then have to find thousands and thousands of dollars to be able to purchase this equipment."
Mr Dean's new chair has come not a minute too soon - his previous electric wheelchair was becoming unreliable and breaking down at least once a month.
He recalled a number of occasions last summer when it became dangerous.
"It was the same thing - broken wires - so it would stop and go, stop and go," he said.
"I have a ramp to get out of the car and the chair was halfway down the ramp and the wire lost contact, so the chair just stopped.
"I couldn’t go anywhere by myself and had to make sure someone was behind me all of the time.
"When you have limited mobility, you’re immobilised from the start and then you get in a chair and you can actually go somewhere.
"When you lose your mobility again, life sucks."
Mrs Clarke said the silver lining of the experience was the flow-on effects the partnership formed to fund Mr Dean's wheelchair had created.
"Since we linked in with the Department of Human Services and started helping Jason, we’ve now had two requests from individuals," she said.
"Now we can help others achieve the ultimate outcome of keeping them independent and mobile."