Automotive Accessibility Special Section

2012: A Year of Milestones & Outreach

Getting your kicks on Route 66. Cruising Pacific Coast Highway in a classic convertible. Taking U.S. 80’s “Broadway of America” from Dallas through the Deep South. So many quintessential American experiences involve our cars. Yet so many consumers remain unaware of the adaptive equipment, new technologies and specially trained professionals who can help to keep them in the driver’s or passenger’s seat.

Educating consumers and advocating for mobility dealers are among the major goals of the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA), whose annual conference is Feb. 22-24 in Phoenix.

And this year, the educational outreach effort takes on a new form: a National Mobility Awareness Month, recognized by Congress and scheduled for May.

Concentrating Efforts & Resources

The idea for the upcoming awareness month began, says NMEDA’s Executive Director Dave Hubbard, with the organization’s cooperative awareness program. NMEDA members contributed funds, which were pooled and spent on generating awareness for mobility products.

“We ran that program for about a year doing some traditional advertising,” Hubbard says. “And what we found from our research is because of the amount of money we were able to generate, we were having very little impact in traditional media.”

Yet, NMEDA knew there was a huge need for adaptive automotive equipment. When the organization exhibited at car shows aimed at the general public, attendees told Hubbard again and again that they knew someone who could benefit from the technology.

Deciding NMEDA needed a way to get more bang for its buck, NMEDA members began thinking of ways to make a greater impact. One NMEDA member suggested the industry needed an awareness week.

“A week didn’t seem like long enough,” Hubbard says, “so it ended up being a month.”

During that month, NMEDA is urging everyone in the industry to get involved in educating the public. “We want our dealers to participate, to send out press releases to the local papers and local media, radio, television,” Hubbard says, adding that NMEDA will simultaneously be making those same eff orts on a national level.

The awareness month’s biggest splash will be a contest to award adapted vehicles to consumers who submit their life stories. “The contest really becomes the center point,” Hubbard says. “It focuses on encouraging people to deal with their disability, and it promotes life.”

Contestants can upload videos on Facebook, then encourage friends to vote. Winners will receive vehicles built and specially fitted by NMEDA members to the winners’ required specifications.

Toyota, Hubbard says, has already donated a vehicle to give away, and other manufacturers are considering donations as well. NMEDA’s goal is to give the vehicles away on national TV shows, such as Good Morning America or Ellen.

Voters need a special code in order to cast their ballots for their favorite videos, and those codes will only be available via NMEDA members’ Web sites or by visiting a NMEDA member’s store.

In that way, NMEDA hopes more people will become aware of mobility dealers, the work they do, and the technology that exists.

Putting a Face on the Industry

NMEDA has also enlisted Mike Savicki, a former Navy pilot and highly accomplished wheelchair athlete, to be the organization’s 2012 spokesman.

Savicki — a writer and photographer who has founded a business communications company — sustained a spinal cord injury in 1990. He is the only person to complete the Boston Marathon on foot and in a wheelchair, and has also played on the national quad rugby team.

“He’s stepped up to his disability in what we thought was a really good example of somebody taking charge of their life,” Hubbard says.

Hubbard hopes Savicki will be able to participate in the vehicle give-aways, which are due to happen at the end of May. Voting for the winners will take place earlier in May “to push a lot of energy into one month,” Hubbard explains.

Understandably, National Mobility Awareness Month will be a big topic of discussion at NMEDA’s annual conference.

“We will be having a press conference there,” Hubbard says, “and are devoting an entire workshop to explain this to the dealers. When they leave the conference, there will be dealer kits waiting for them.”

While the vehicle contest is likely to make the big national headlines, ultimately the hope is that NMEDA members can also make lasting impressions in their own backyards.

“We want the dealers to have open houses, media days and that kind of thing,” Hubbard says. “Open it up to the public and put a display out there. Have a weekend to do something special, and invite people that wouldn’t have normally been invited.”

NMEDA will also be hoping to reach and educate seniors, especially ones “who are growing into their disability,” Hubbard says. “If you injure yourself or you have a disease that puts you in a wheelchair, there are people around that can tell you about these products and materials. But if you’re just slowly growing into your disability, you don’t always know (about adaptive automotive equipment). There’s an awful lot of people in this world that just don’t know what mobility solutions are available.”

As part of that senior outreach, NMEDA is working with organizations such as Retirement Living TV Network to help spread the word, and Hubbard says NMEDA also wants to reach out to adults whose parents could benefit from this kind of equipment.

How much impact can this industry niche have if it combines stakeholders’ resources into an ambitious, high-profile, month-long campaign? Players in the adaptive automotive market are about to find out.

“It’s a lot of work,” Hubbard acknowledges. “But it’s really exciting.”

This article originally appeared in the February 2012 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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