2008: Looking Down the Road NMEDA: The Driving Force of Adaptive Mobility

So you walk out to your car to find it doesn’t start. If you’re an able-bodied individual, you have options: Borrow a vehicle from a family member or friend, rent one or call a cab. But when an individual with a mobility impairment runs into the same situation, it’s more difficult to find an appropriate replacement vehicle in a timely, convenient and safe manner. This is where the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA) comes in. “It is the job of organizations such as NMEDA to look for ways to provide consumers the safest vehicles and products,” says Dana Roeling, executive director of NMEDA. The woman who sits at the helm of NMEDA says it is through the strength of the organization and others like it that dealers have a voice so their concerns and recommendations can be disseminated to appropriate industry representatives.

“NMEDA, especially in the past five or more years, has effectively raised the level of awareness by forging a professional relationship with OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), federal and state entities, the National Veterans Administration, state vocational service programs and adaptive product manufacturers,” she says. While adaptive vehicle manufacturers and product suppliers are continually advancing design and application by applying state-of-the-art technology to ensure that vehicles are better equipped for people with disabilities, mobility dealers have played an important part in the process, which has also included heightened emphasis on ergonomics and aesthetic features. “Organizations such as NMEDA provide a sounding board for these manufacturers to obtain much needed feedback, helping them to keep a pulse on the needs of the end-user,” Roeling says. She explains that one of the hot topics in the adaptive automotive industry is the continued challenge of adapting clients’ vehicles without jeopardizing vehicles’ safety or compromising federal compliance regulations. Another big concern is communicating to funding agencies the reasons behind cost increases of adaptive equipment, as more regulations and testing become standard and enforced.

The cost manufacturers incur to test and show compliance affects the prices of these products, Roeling says. State or federal programs financially subsidize most of the products and driving modifications associated with the adaptive automotive industry.

“There seems to be a lack of communication between the organizations that provide clients their funding, the rehabilitation centers that make the recommendations of equipment a client requires, and the organizations that create the regulations,” she says. “This disconnection creates an adverse situation for the client and the adaptive supplier. Most often the funding agency responds with comments like ‘The specified equipment costs exceed the available or allowable funds set in place.’ It is not unusual for clients to wait six to nine months for a funding decision, only to find out they have been denied.”

The good news is there are more options available for people with disabilities than there were in the past. Chrysler/Dodge, Chevrolet, Toyota and Honda minivans — both new and pre-owned models for lowered-floor side or rear-entry conversions — are now available. Ford and Chevrolet full-size vans are also available in lowered-floor configurations. Special turn-out seats, which provide an affordable means of accessible entry, are suitable for many of the vans, SUVs and pick-up models.

“Primary and secondary driving controls are also available to this varied selection of vehicles,” Roeling added. “Dealers are also anticipating the arrival of some new and unique adaptations to Nissan and other import vehicles in mid 2008.”

Roeling hopes mobility equipment dealers will continue to take advantage of the opportunity to join NMEDA’s Quality Assurance Program (QAP). QAP status signifies two things: It shows clients that dealers want to provide the best possible means of assuring that safety, quality, product knowledge, technician certification and industry documentation are understood, followed and implemented. It also ensures that dealers understand how to successfully run their businesses in a professional manner, while emphasizing the importance of standards, procedures, and their relationship to liability while promoting employee and client safety, Roeling says. Roeling looks forward to discussing such issues with NMEDA members during the organization’s annual conference, Feb. 20-22 in Phoenix. During the three-day conference, attendees can sit in on educational sessions, visit the 200 booths set up in the exhibit hall and be educated and entertained by “pit bull of personal development” Larry Winget, the best-selling author and television host who’ll serve as this year’s keynote speaker.

The conference gives NMEDA members the opportunity to discuss, in person, ways the organization can be of better support to them. It’s one of the only times that all NMEDA members and dealers can get together to talk about the commonalities and differences in what they’re doing, Roeling added. “This is a chance for the board of directors to have face-to-face meetings with NMEDA members to share the vision and goals of the future of the association and this industry,” Roeling says. “What I hope is that we have a large attendance and that the networking opportunities provide valuable information that the dealers can take back to help them with their businesses.”

For more information about NMEDA or its conference, go to www.nmeda.org.

About the Author

Lunzeta Brackens is a contributing editor for Mobility Management.

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