Ramp Up to Avoid Leaving Revenue on the Table!

For mobility suppliers and complex rehab providers who work daily with scooter and wheelchair users, home and environmental accessibility can offer the valuable chance to diversify business revenue streams via retail products that are vital to their existing customers’ safety, functionality and independence. But one of the most frequently asked questions about making such an expansion is this: What does it take to get started? We asked Gary Nowitz of EZ-ACCESS for specific details on which investments that providers can expect to make to enter — and succeed within — the home and environmental accessibility market. — Ed.

DME suppliers who only provide a mobility device to a client and do not ask probing questions about ramping needs are missing out on a cash-sale opportunity.

Why? Providing a mobility device might only be a partial solution. Consider these factors:

• How will clients get in and out of their house? All steps are a major obstacle for those using mobility devices, including scooters, power chairs or even rollators and walkers.

• How will they maneuver the mobility device inside their home? Accessibility isn’t necessarily better once they get indoors. Thresholds, sliding glass door tracks and sunken rooms all present major obstacles.

• Will they need a portable ramp when they travel? Unfortunately, many other environments aren’t fully or easily accessible, either.

If you offer mobility devices, ramps are a natural fit. Keeping the ramps visible and readily available will allow your client to see beyond their mobility device and realize that ramps are a necessity and key to maintaining their lifestyle. If you don’t probe or institute a cross-marketing/educational process by assessing your clients’ comprehensive accessibility needs, then you’re leaving revenue on the table.

The Goals of Aging in Place

“Aging in place” means remaining in one’s home safely, independently and comfortably, regardless of age, income or ability level. It means the pleasure of living in a familiar environment throughout one’s maturing years, and the ability to enjoy the familiar daily rituals and the special events that enrich all our lives. It means the reassurance of being able to call a house a “home” for a lifetime.

More than ever, people want to live at home as long as possible rather than moving to a medical facility. Baby boomers have the financial capability to “age in place” at home and need your help as a comprehensive professional to evaluate their accessibility needs. Certification programs can prepare you to perform professional evaluations and ensure the ergonomically correct solution for your clients so that aging in place can happen:

• Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS), offered through the National Association of Home Builders: nahb.org/generic.aspx?genericContentID=9334

• Certified Environmental Access Consultant (CEAC) offered through Accessible Home Improvement of America: accesshomeamerica.com

Achieving certification will enable you to “take off the blindfolds” and take the broadest possible view when assessing your clients’ needs. This will not only serve your client well, but will also yield additional revenue at a time when DME and complex rehab technology payors of many types are severely cutting reimbursement.

How to Get Started

Feedback from suppliers indicates they want to expand into the accessibility niche, but aren’t sure where or how to start. Here are some answers to some frequently asked questions.

• How do I determine which ramp type, configuration and design best meets my clients’ needs?

Choose a manufacturer that offers consultation-type customer service. That means manufacturer reps should be able to suggest ramp types (portable, modular or threshold); use modular ramp AutoCAD configuration drawings (i.e., computer-aided design or drafting software that can create two- and three-dimensional illustrations) and provide supportive documentation regarding safety. This sort of support will enable you as the supplier to comprehensively meet the accessibility needs of your clients, even if they need customized solutions.

• How do I market home accessibility to potential customers?

If you have a retail showroom, include ramp and accessibility displays next to your mobility products to create a “solutions environment.” You can place a scooter or a wheelchair onto a ramp and use it when a client wants to test the mobility equipment on site.

If you’re a complex rehab technology provider, you might not have dedicated retail showroom space. However, do you have another space where your clients regularly congregate or spend time, such as a waiting area, an evaluation/assessment room or an area in which they test-drive different wheelchairs and positioning equipment? Portions of these spaces can do double-duty as ramp and accessibility display areas, and clients who are trying out chairs can use demonstration ramps as part of the test-drive process.

If you offer home evaluations or assessments before providing a mobility device — now a standard best practice for many mobility and complex rehab providers — this is the perfect opportunity to point out obstacles such as steps, sliding glass door tracks or thresholds. You should also train service/delivery techs to correctly perform a home evaluation to capture accessibility revenue.

Creating a tri-fold brochure dedicated exclusively to accessibility and using it in direct-mail campaigns and in-services to local discharge planners and referral sources will generate local interest. Most accessibility manufacturers offer graphic marketing CDs with high-resolution images you can use to create brochures and enhance your Web site content

• How do I determine the correct length for a ramp I’m being asked to provide?

To determine the appropriate length of a ramp, remember that the rise — i.e., the height that the ramp must traverse — determines a ramp’s correct length. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards recommend 12" of ramp for every one inch of rise, which means for a rise of 6", the ramp should be 6' long. That formula results in a ramp incline of 4.8°, a measurement designed to ensure that power mobility vehicles can safely navigate up and down the ramp, and that self-propelling manual chair users will be able to traverse the ramp safely and without over-exerting themselves. See the Incline Chart to help determine correct ramp length. Although the above information is a general rule, it is important to refer to the mobility equipment’s User Guide for exact recommendations concerning acceptable usage and allowable slope.

Ramp Lengths

These next questions are part of a broader topic suppliers wonder about when they’re considering an expansion into home and environmental accessibility.

• How long will it take me to get educated in this niche so I can start providing this service to my consumers?

Certification programs obviously require greater time investments and yield a more comprehensive education. But other processes, such as determining the appropriate length of a ramp, can be quickly and easily incorporated into the services you already offer.

• How difficult is it to install a modular ramp?

To maximize the efficiency of your staffers who will be installing ramps, work with manufacturers who design their modular ramp systems for easy installation. Ask if manufacturers offer training classes or have installation videos on their Web sites. In many cases, installing a simple modular ramp can be performed with little effort and expense.

• How do I determine labor costs when providing a price quote for a modular ramp system?

In many cases a manufacturer will not only provide you with an AutoCAD drawing, but will also give you an idea of installation time. You would simply quote your hourly labor rate multiplied by the suggested installation time. Again, here’s where it pays off to work with a manufacturer who can offer you a variety of support services, including personalized customer service and consultations, the ability to accommodate special customer orders or needs, and a range of marketing materials.

By taking a broad view when assessing your clients’ needs, you will add additional revenue to your bottom line. Remember, the majority of ramp sales are cash sales, which are much needed in today’s home healthcare industry. Diversification not only makes business sense, but also serves consumers well.

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

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