Automotive Access Special

Making Inroads

Educating Both Consumers & Policy Makers Will Remain a Top Priority in 2014

Automotive AccessHere’s a number for you: 1.2 billion. That’s the number of media impressions that National Mobility Awareness Month made in 2012, according to Dave Hubbard, CEO/executive director of the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA).

That incredible number is also indicative of the inroads made by the automotive mobility industry in the mainstream media and the minds of the mainstream public, many of whom undoubtedly didn’t know that adaptive automotive equipment even existed beforehand.

National Mobility Awareness Month — again scheduled for May, with associated activities starting in February — is probably the best known and most widely publicized of NMEDA’s projects, but it’s just one of many priorities for the organization this year.

Grass-Roots Success

The culmination of National Mobility Awareness Month is the announcement of consumers who have been elected, through public voting, to receive free mobility vehicles customized to their needs.

The contest invites consumers to submit their personal stories and to explain how a new mobility vehicle would impact their lives. Families, friends and entire communities have rallied around contest participants to drum up support and votes.

The Awareness Month campaign won a regional marketing award in Florida and won an honorable mention for Integrated Communications Campaigns from the American Society of Association Executives.

As for those 1.2 billion impressions from a contest that was held for just the second time last year, Hubbard says, “It is amazing, considering it was a grass-roots PR campaign that started as a social media effort. We’re really proud of the effort, and it seems to be generating more and more awareness for the solutions that are available out there and where to buy them. We hope that it generates positive awareness for NMEDA and its members.”

That awareness is critical. Behind the contest’s entertainment value and good-natured competition is the very real fact that too many people with mobility disabilities, their families and caregivers remain unaware of adaptive automotive solutions and the professionals who specialize in them.

The program is now in its third year, and Hubbard has noticed a change in entrants’ approaches.

In its inaugural year, he recalls, “We got a lot of ‘I need, I need, I need.’ But the second year, they caught onto the idea that we were looking for the inspirational stories. It is a question of need in a lot of cases, but it’s also a question of ‘What are you doing in your life to be inspiring to other people with disabilities or other people who need help?’”

Industry-Wide Donations

In return, the mobility industry has come together to donate equipment and expertise to ensure that the winners receive vehicles that are individually customized to their particular needs.

While the automotive manufacturers — such as Chrysler and Toyota, who have already agreed to donate new vehicles for the 2014 contest — oft en get the most attention for their contributions, Hubbard points out that many other sponsors also donate products to make customizations possible.

“Our own manufacturers — Braun, VMI, some of the smaller ones like Q’Straint and Drive-Master — they’ve all stepped up and donated products to this,” Hubbard says. “The way it works is that we have a van donated and we get a conversion donated. And then the smaller manufacturers, like Sure Grip, MPS Hand Controls, Drive-Master, donate all the parts. They’ve all stepped up, and NMEDA coordinates it.”

One vehicle winner last year was from Canada, making the Mobility Awareness Month program a genuinely international affair.

Even contestants who don’t win a vehicle can gain valuable attention through their campaigning efforts.

“Local news programming or newspapers and media are picking up on the heroes who are campaigning,” Hubbard says. “The whole point is that you’ve got people out there with disabilities who are campaigning for votes and getting people to vote. And in their campaigns, social media is out there, and the media is tracking what’s going on. A lot of these stories are being picked up locally.

“A lot of times the local community will get involved to support this hero, and it just begins to mushroom. The really beautiful thing from our standpoint is it generates awareness for mobility solutions and comes back to that age-old problem in our industry: that people just don’t know what’s available.”

Educating Policy-Makers

NMEDA’s 2014 educational plans don’t end with consumers and caregivers. Hubbard says the organization will continue to spread the word about the value of the technology and its professionals to policymakers, as well.

“Our government relations efforts this past year have focused on Congress and the VA (Veterans Affairs),” he notes. “We’ve been trying to get the VA to establish criteria for selecting mobility dealers; they don’t have anything in place right now. They can send [a veteran in need of mobility equipment] to anybody, whether they’re qualified or not. And we’ve got veterans that don’t even know there’s a [mobility equipment] grant program out there for them.”

NMEDA is also working to teach the value of its members’ experience and expertise to other funding sources.

“We’ve been trying to focus on getting ourselves introduced or reintroduced to a number of the state [vocational] rehabilitation departments, and talking to them about what our dealers do and the fact that they’re audited every year against a given set of criteria,” Hubbard says. “We’re basically asking [the departments] to make it easy on themselves and choose NMEDA dealers to do their work.”

One of the legislative items on NMEDA’s watchlist concerns automotive franchise laws, Hubbard adds.

“We’ve got a couple of state legislative efforts going on with respect to licensing mobility dealers in states where the states have held up franchising laws that might — they have not yet, let’s make that clear — but could in fact prohibit the sale of mobility vehicles from mobility dealers because they don’t have a new car franchise license with their OEM,” he says. “It’s just a gap in the law, so wherever that exists we go in and correct that situation. We’ve been successful in about seven states, so that’s good.”

NMEDA and its members also expect to continue sharing a general message about the organization’s criteria and the special skills that a NMEDA mobility dealer has.

NMEDA’s Quality Assurance Program (QAP), originally an optional upgrade for organization members, became mandatory in 2011.

Asked if the new QAP standard has had a positive effect, Hubbard says, “It’s helped a lot. We don’t have a dual standard at NMEDA anymore. When we go in and talk to Congress or make [Capitol] Hill visits, we can say unequivocally, ‘This is what our members stand for’: the training, the facilities that they have to have, and so forth. And it helps us in that we don’t have to try to service two different statuses of members. We’re able to tighten up the QAP program, make it stronger and more definitive, which gives you a stronger platform to stand on when you’re talking to government officials or telling somebody that they need to put criteria in place — and if it’s not QAP, it should be very similar to QAP.”

Given that a mobility dealer is called upon to do comprehensive mobility assessments, anticipate clients’ clinical progressions, stay up to date on the latest equipment applications, work with referral and funding sources, collaborate with driver rehabilitation specialists, and install and service a wide range of products — Hubbard believes that the QAP actually comprises the most basic standards.

“To me, it really is the minimum requirements for getting into business as a mobility dealer. It is the highest standard in the industry, but it is still a minimum standard of what a dealer should be doing.”

This article originally appeared in the February 2014 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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