Another Opinion

The Real Investment of Complex Rehab Technology

I want to share with you how to achieve a mind-blowing 18,200- percent return on a specific investment.

Mark E. SmithWhat’s more, it’s repeatable countless times, year after year, and I’ve personally built my life from this investment. I’ve witnessed many others benefit from it — changing their lives forever — and I’ve even spoken on Capitol Hill, striving to get our government to understand how to achieve this exact return.

So, what’s this insanely successful investment called?

Complex rehab technology. Indeed, the socioeconomic return on the investment that is complex rehab technology is staggering, arguably better than any other investment that we and the government can make. And I know this not just as a complex rehab technology industry veteran, but also as an individual who’s personally produced an astounding 18,200-percent return on the complex rehab technology investment made in me as a young community college student trying to change my life for the better some 20 years ago.

Blazing a Brand-New Trail

See, as I struggled through my first few semesters at a community college, all odds were against me. I was blazing a trail away from a family where I was the first of any generation to graduate high school, never be incarcerated, not be an addict, and pulling my way out of poverty — that is, I strove as the first to change the course of my family tree. Yet as one born with severe cerebral palsy, I was “living on the system,” as it was always called when I waited in food lines as a child with my mother to get government-issued boxes of powdered milk and blocks of cheese.

Fresh out of high school, I tried to make it on my own, but swiftly landed back on SSI, food stamps and Medi-Cal insurance, caught in the same socioeconomic trap as approximately 80 percent of those with severe disabilities who want to work, but face barriers.

However, I realized that higher education was key, that a college degree and subsequent employment would completely change the trajectory of my life, taking me from being on the system to paying into the system. So I wasn’t ashamed that I was on SSI as a 21-year-old making my way through community college. Rather, I was inspired because I assumed responsibility to do whatever I could to build long-term success.

Unfortunately, upon completing my two years at the community college, I hit a wall that needed surmounting to continue my dreams of education, a career and financial independence. Although I had a 4.0 grade point average, the nearest four-year transfer schools were 50 miles away, with sprawling campuses. How was I ever to commute on public transit or traverse a university campus in my old E&J power chair that didn’t meet my mobility or positioning needs? My ambition to get off of the system was jeopardized by my lacking the right mobility technology — and no government agency wanted to fund a new complex rehab power chair for me to finish school, obtain employment, and get off of the system and actually pay into it.

An $8,000 Initial Investment

In a last-ditch effort, I managed to arrange a meeting with representatives from the California Department of Vocational Rehabilitation and Medi-Cal.

“I’m not asking for a hand-out,” I told them. “I’m in need of a hand up. If you’ll fund my $8,000 power wheelchair, I can accept my admission to San Francisco State University, get my bachelor’s degree, then my master’s degree, going on to a self-sufficient life off of the system. That $8,000 may seem like a big investment today, but not only will I pay it back in income taxes my first year out of school, but the annual return on it with me as a taxpayer, not a beneficiary, will be exponential. I estimate that after 10 years in the work force, I will have saved the government $1,456,000 – that’s an 18,200-percent return on your $8,000.”

As I sit here 20 years later, the $8,000 investment made in complex rehab technology for me absolutely paid off. No, the path through my higher education wasn’t easy. I commuted on public transportation three hours each way to school every day and got little sleep for years as I studied like a man possessed. But my complex rehab technology — from my power chair to my pressure management cushion — made it all possible. Ultimately, not only did I get off of the system just two weeks after graduation, but I went on to a career of lifelong self-sufficiency that has saved taxpayers millions and in which I pay income tax, property tax and school tax. At this point, the 18,200-percent return on that initial $8,000 compounds annually and has reached an amount so high, I stopped counting.

Now, I know my personal story may sound remarkable. However, it’s not. It reflects the absolute reality of most who rely on complex rehab technology. Give someone in need the right complex rehab technology to pursue education, employment and community, and he or she moves from being on the system to paying into the system. It is the single best investment we can make if we want to shift the economic pendulum of disability-related services.

This Investment Elevates Us All

Yet, providing the right complex rehab technology isn’t just sound fiscal policy. It’s also the soundest ethical policy toward one’s quality of life — and how do we put a price on that? Yes, in an uncanny equation, we know that just like my power chair funded 20 years ago, if a payor funds a $500 pressure management cushion and avoids a typical $91,000 in decubitus ulcer treatments, we’re back to an 18,200-percent return on investment. That’s not factoring in the preserved quality of life, as well, for the individual who isn’t trapped in a hospital bed for months at a time, but is out living and contributing within the community. For example, how do you put a price on the fact that complex rehab technology allows one to be a participatory parent, raising a healthy next generation of children? The socioeconomic ripple effect of complex rehab technology carries on and on, ultimately benefiting all of society.

I was recently sitting in my driveway, coaching my 17-year-old daughter on how to wash and detail her first car. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a teenager so happy — washing your first car is a hallmark in one’s life. And as a father whose daughter is gearing up for college — with all of the mixed emotions that we feel when our little girls become wonderfully independent young women — I took a moment to reflect on how I got there: a life-changing education, an astounding career, and a beautiful daughter. And the answer all goes back to that single $8,000 investment made in my complex rehab technology 20 years ago, where the return hasn’t just been 18,200 percent, but truly immeasurable.

As we strive to fully convey the positive impact of complex rehab technology to our legislators and funding sources, an 18,200-percent return on investment is an attention-grabbing figure — and a literal one. However, as I look at my customers, my peers and my own life, the impact of complex rehab technology is even greater: Placing one in the right complex rehab technology doesn’t just liberate an individual’s life; it further elevates our entire society.

This article originally appeared in the June 2014 issue of Mobility Management.

About the Author

Mark E. Smith is the General Manager for Pride Mobility Products Corp., and can be reached at 800-800-8586, or via email at

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