NMEDA Revs Up Education & Outreach Efforts
- By Laurie Watanabe
- Feb 01, 2015
In automotive racing slang, “flat” describes the position of a car’s accelerator when its driver is going all out — as in the accelerator being “flat” on the floorboard.
It’s an apt metaphor for the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA) as it prepares for its annual conference — this year in Daytona Beach, Fla., Feb. 25-27.
A number of factors, ranging from aging Baby Boomers to mainstream headlines about accessible taxicabs in New York City, have brightened the spotlight on mobility and accessible transportation in recent years. And NMEDA’s educational campaigns — both within the industry and reaching outside it — have grown to keep pace.
Vehicles for Communications
One of NMEDA’s biggest recent pushes has come on the communications front. The organization currently has publications for consumers as well as its Circuit Breaker magazine and Short Circuit newsletters for dealers.
Consumer education remains a major project, as NMEDA CEO/Executive Director Dave Hubbard indicates too many consumers still aren’t aware of the role that mobility dealers play in the healthcare continuum.
“We try to reach out to consumers on a consistent basis to let them know what NMEDA stands for and why they should be considering a NMEDA member dealer when they have mobility needs or automotive mobility needs,” Hubbard says. “Part of that is the newsletters that you see going out to the consumers: They inform people that mobility is more than just cars and lifts and seats. It’s how do I travel, how do I get around, how do I outfit my kitchen? There are a lot of things attached to mobility that mobility dealers do know about and are more than willing to help with.”
Education for the Industry
NMEDA’s professional magazine and newsletter keep members updated on the many issues facing the adaptive automotive industry. Webinars have become a popular way for NMEDA to offer educational opportunities, and in a new wrinkle, the automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) have started giving presentations.
“Those Webinars are going great, in fact, outstanding,” Hubbard reports. “Toyota and Chrysler have given their Webinars, and we broke records in attendance. This is the first year we really tried to put OEM Webinars together to try to teach our members about the OEM product.”
Hubbard explains that those types of Webinars — in which the OEMs can directly address dealers selling the end products, including vehicle conversions — are much needed. “What we realized is that a gap exists in the industry. If you’re in the OEM business — if you’re a Toyota or Chrysler dealer — you get training on the Toyota and the Chrysler product. But if you’re a mobility dealer and are buying vans from Braun or VMI or Eldorado, you don’t necessarily get training on the OEM product. You get training on the ramps, seating and special equipment, but you don’t necessarily know all the features and benefits that go along with the vehicle itself, the original equipment. So what we’re trying to do — and these are the first steps, and I think they’re going to get stronger as we go along — is bridge that gap between the OEM product and mobility dealer sales personnel.”
The Webinars, open to NMEDA members, can be useful to a wide range of mobility dealer personnel.
“I would say it’s good for everybody,” Hubbard says. “The people most likely to use it are those people involved in sales to some degree. It really depends on the type of mobility dealer.”
Hubbard adds that clinician members of NMEDA are welcome to tap into the Webinars. “But we also offer them the CAMS presentations — Comprehensive Automotive Mobility Solutions. We have it in a couple of different forms. We’ve trained several hundred dealers across the country to give one-hour seminars on mobility solutions that are available, what they do and how they operate and where they need to go to find them so [clinicians] can recommend that to their clients. They can get continuing education units for those: We offer CEUs from AOTA (American Occupational Therapy Association) and APTA (American Physical Therapy Association) and the kinesiologists’ association, a number of different associations.
“And then we have a full-day class, which is beginning to pick up momentum and which is offered to OTs and PTs in a given market. That’s good for seven CEUS, and that takes them through the whole process: the history, the solutions that are available. It gives them a walk-around of products, it talks about the different types of mobility, the [mobility-related conditions’] prognoses — are they going to get worse, what do you have to pay attention to? It’s very comprehensive.”
Those all-day courses are presented in a face-to-face format; Hubbard says NMEDA has five venues planned so far in 2015. The ideal clinician attendee, he adds, is one who works with clients who have mobility impairments, but who isn’t familiar with adaptive automotive services and technology available for those consumers.
And for technicians, the organization has its Certified Technician Program, a chance for individual technicians to gain recognition that their mobility dealer employers can leverage in marketing campaigns, but also that technicians can take with them if they change jobs.
The Certified Technician Program is a voluntary one, though Hubbard says he hopes it eventually becomes mandatory for NMEDA members.
To complete the program, technicians need to take “training programs from different manufacturers, enough manufacturers so they have certificates on file to do the work — that’s part of [NMEDA’s mandatory] Quality Assistance Program (QAP) requirement anyway. We have electrical training I and II so they have enough electrical training because most of our equipment is electronic. They need to understand the QAP and the rules and the guidelines that NMEDA puts forth — and those are living documents that are reviewed monthly and annually and updated on a regular basis so that we’re setting the standards in the industry and our technicians are up to speed on those.”
Technicians also take a final test to achieve certification, and need to requalify about every two years.
It’s a worthwhile investment, Hubbard believes, to demonstrate that mobility dealer technicians are uniquely qualified.
“There’s a big difference between a mobility technician and a standard automotive technician,” he points out. “[Standard technicians] don’t know anything about ramps and hand controls and the electronic controls. They learn how to deal with a car, but they don’t know how to deal with the mobility equipment. People have to understand that it’s different, and that the people who install hand controls, for instance, know exactly what they’re doing.”
National Mobility Awareness Month: Year 4
For all the effort going into providing day-to-day education for both consumers and dealers, the event that garners the most attention all year is the industry’s National Mobility Awareness Month.
The most popular and well-known part of the campaign is the contest in which consumers compete in an accessible vehicle giveaway. Last year, NMEDA tweaked the contest’s structure to ensure, for instance, that one of the winners would be a senior.
This year’s contest will renew those rules, with consumers submitting applications and the public voting for their favorites.
Along the way, the Awareness Month each May generates publicity for NMEDA dealers while educating consumers, clinicians and the mainstream public about options available for people who have mobility impairments.
The 2014 contest “garnered 1.4 billion impressions throughout the course of the campaign,” Hubbard says. “And again, huge positive results from the mobility market in terms of participants. We had over 1,400 participants, so we’re getting the word out.”
In the lead-up to the May winners’ announcement, Hubbard says NMEDA plans to have adaptive automotive technology displays at major rehabilitation hospitals. Mobility dealers are being encouraged to reach out to their communities via open houses and media events.
The major goal is to educate the current generation of consumers not just for the benefit of today’s seniors, but so tomorrow’s seniors already know their options when they need support.
“Most baby boomers are not in the senior mobility market,” Hubbard says. “They’re still 10 to 15 years away from that. What they are is children of parents in that market, and making them aware of what’s available for their parents will keep them aware, hopefully, and they’ll be prepared when they get to that age.
“We’re still one of the best-kept secrets I think in the country in the sense that people don’t necessarily want to know about mobility because it’s not something they want to have to deal with. But when they do, it’s good to know and important to know where to go.”
This article originally appeared in the February 2015 issue of Mobility Management.