Editor's Note

A Separate Benefit for Complex Rehab

Parking Sign

Bloody, but unbowed: A stalwart parking sign — once run over, now repaired — outside our Irvine, Calif., offices.

As you’re reading this, summer is over, barbecue grills are being returned to garages, and kids are back in school. But as I’m writing this, it’s July 26, 2010 — the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). And in commemoration, I’ve spent the last few days trying to get my homeowners’ association to move the huge pile of cedar mulch being “stored” in the one-and-only handicapped parking space — and the curb cutout and the loading zone — across from my mailbox.

Four days, a couple of phone calls and a dozen e-mails later, I drove by the parking space this morning and found it clear. But it took four days and a lot of formal language — “running afoul of local, state and federal laws that ensure access to people with disabilities,” etc. — to clear the parking space, and in the end, I suspect the real reason the mulch was moved is that the landscapers were finally ready to shovel it into the rose beds.

That blocked parking space is an apt metaphor for the ADA at 20: The parking space is there, with its blue sign, loading area and curb cut, but they’re all being used as storage for a mountain of mulch, as non-disabled parking spots stand empty mere inches away. The ADA made public accessibility the letter of the law, but 20 years later, the spirit of the law isn’t always in play.

A few days before the ADA turned 20, I was on the phone with Don Clayback, executive director of the National Coalition of Assistive & Rehab Technology. Don and other seating & mobility professionals are working toward establishing a separate benefit category for complex rehab technology. Should this effort succeed, there would be no more lumping in Group 3 power chairs with rollators stocked at Wal-Mart. No more thinking of canes and head arrays as different examples of the same basic type of equipment. A separate benefit for complex rehab would both acknowledge the value and need for DME, and recognize that severely involved seating & mobility clients need in-depth evaluations, personalized fittings, custom-built or configured equipment, and ongoing support. A separate benefit would also define the education and expertise required of providers working with these clients and technology, and would hold them to their own, additional set of standards.

If the ADA opened literal doors for people with disabilities, the separate benefit category for complex rehab could help give them access to the technology they need to actually move through those doors, both inside and outside their homes. And it gives them access to seating & mobility clinicians and suppliers well versed in clients’ seating & positioning needs.

In this issue, we debut a column called Liberating Complex Rehab. Our premiere column focuses on the goals of the separate benefit and the various pieces of the puzzle: education, legislation, implementation. This new column will be a regular in Mobility Management’s lineup, as we follow the effort’s progress, talk to the folks involved and look for opportunities to plug in.

The ADA is 20. That’s not very old, honestly. But 20 years is sufficient time to realize that ending discrimination and legislating accessibility are only of practical use if people with disabilities can get out and fully experience their schools, workplaces and communities. For many of them, complex assistive technology is the way to get there.

The ADA was a significant step in leveling the playing field. Now it’s time to make sure people can get onto that playing field and use it. Surely, a separate benefit category for complex rehab is a step in the right direction and a fitting evolution for the ADA.

This article originally appeared in the September 2010 issue of Mobility Management.

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at lwatanabe@1105media.com.

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