10 Years: Perspectives from the Industry

Mark E. Smith: Are Funding Cuts “Landlocking” the ADA?

Mark E. SmithIn real estate, “landlocked” is a piece of land without access, entirely surrounded by other properties. The land, in theory, is usable, but because it can’t be accessed, the property is useless.

Unfortunately, in the past six years I’ve seen all that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has to offer slowly become landlocked – namely due to mobility funding cuts. After all, with so many public accommodations now available, how can they be accessed if one can’t fund a mobility product needed to leave one’s home? Curb-cuts, accessible transportation and equal-opportunity employment are all liberating assets; however, if those with disabilities don’t have the proper mobility to access them, they become moot points.

The ADA, arguably, was facilitated by advances in mobility technology and its funding. The 1980s were a time of tremendous advancement in areas like ultralight manual and power wheelchairs. As a result, those with disabilities could better pursue full social inclusion by simply having better mobility. This literal access to the world through better mobility technology led to the pursuit of equality and, ultimately, the ADA. It was truly a straightforward equation: Access to better mobility technology allowed better access to the world at large, which then made the need for social equality increasingly important.

However, the erosion of mobility funding over the past six years has reversed the tide entirely. For example, whereas in the 1990s and early 2000s, “fuller-featured” types of power wheelchairs were readily funded for those in need, allowing them to go farther, faster to access education and employment — pursuing all that the ADA had to offer — now we’re in a climate where such liberating technology is harder than ever to fund. Group 4 power chairs are no longer funded, and the “in-homeuse-only” rule has been tightened based on newer reimbursement coding criteria. In this way, restrictive mobility funding policy is preventing many with disabilities from merely leaving their homes to fully realize their potentials outlined by the ADA.

What we know is that the ADA has allowed many to go from being “on the system” to “paying into the system” — and mobility technology plays a vital role in that process. The two go together, where one needs proper mobility technology to access a… well… accessible world. It proves a dangerous trend, then, that while we’ve increased inclusion over the last 20 years via the ADA, various mobility funding cuts in recent years have simultaneously reduced inclusion, voiding potentials of the ADA. One door opens while another shuts.

Indeed, the ADA and mobility funding go hand in hand toward education, employment and community involvement, where access isn’t only about the ADA, but also about the levels to which mobility funding is sustained. If the ADA is to be a true success, mobility funding for those in need must be prioritized — and only then can there be true access for all.

About the Author

Mark E. Smith, a member of MM’s editorial advisory board, is the consumer research manager at Pride Mobility Products Corp.

This article originally appeared in the October 2011 issue of Mobility Management.

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