United Spinal’s Tobin Calls Access to Technology Critical to Wheelchair Users’ Independence at CELA
United Spinal Association’s president and CEO Paul J. Tobin gave an impassioned keynote speech during the 2012 CELA Conference in Arlington, Virginia on April 17-19 – a gathering of wheelchair consumers, suppliers, manufacturers and clinicians who advocate for people with disabilities to have access to proper mobility equipment. Tobin’s message resonated with CELA attendees: “People with disabilities have a voice, and we intend to use it.”
Tobin, a wheelchair user and Navy veteran, captivated attendees with an insightful, historic overview of how empowered wheelchair users and other Americans with disabilities have shattered numerous barriers to equal rights and inclusion – and that their future participation in dialogue on sociopolitical reform must be protected. “People with disabilities succeed when we speak for ourselves,” Tobin asserted as he engaged hundreds of stakeholders from the complex rehab technology industry that filled the room.
Tobin emphasized that in order for people with disabilities to participate in reform, it’s essential that they have access to this type of technology. Complex rehab technology includes manual and power wheelchairs that are professionally tailored to fit a person’s medical and functional needs.
It’s Not Just A Wheelchair
There are some people who believe a wheelchair is just a wheelchair; it works for everyone the same way. Tobin and United Spinal contend this could not be further from the truth. We believe that access to complex rehab technology is vital, and represents the front lines of the battle for equality for wheelchair users and others within the disability community.
“Without the proper mobility equipment, many individuals cannot live with dignity and independence. They may be confined to their homes or forced into nursing homes. They might not be able to get involved in their communities, discover recreational or educational opportunities, attend family and religious gatherings, or seek employment. They lose their voice and, ultimately, their empowerment,” he explained.
Tobin discussed how disability policy milestones such as the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Fair Housing Amendments Act – initiated during the disability rights and independent living movements of the 60s and 70s – were due in large part to people with disabilities being intimately involved in every stage of reform.
Keep The Dream Alive
According to Tobin, things that were once considered a dream – like curb cuts, ramps, removal of architectural barriers, and employment protections – are now a reality because people with disabilities were the driving force for change. But that empowered grassroots voice echoing from our past is fading fast; it must be restored.
“If we have limited access to the vehicles essential to our independence and livelihood, we could potentially lose everything,” Tobin added. “We lose our ability to fight back against discriminatory practices, archaic policies, inaccessible housing and transportation, or any number of other barriers we are confronted with in our daily lives. Our long journey toward equality and independence will essentially be cut short.”
Tobin pointed out that society has failed to align social goals of inclusion and integration with the technology needed to facilitate it – which is restricted by “medical necessity guidelines” built into our Medicare and Medicaid programs. The solution proposed by Tobin and stakeholders at CELA is the creation of a separate benefits category for complex rehab technology proposed in the Ensuring Access to Quality Complex Rehabilitation Technology Act of 2012.
This bill would carve out complex rehab from the durable medical equipment benefit, put standards in place to ensure the equipment is provided by qualified professionals, and permanently exempt it from the punishing effects of competitive bidding. It would also remove a restriction that allows coverage for complex rehab only for use “in the home.”
Tobin called for wheelchair consumers to take action to bring these changes to fruition. “We can no longer remain silent. Silence means consent. Be loud, be proud,” he said. “Visit your local policymakers and discuss the problems and propose solutions. Talk about the effect that complex rehab technology has had upon your life, your independence, and your family. Speak of your difficulties obtaining, maintaining, and replacing critical mobility equipment – and the negative impact it has had on you.”
He then addressed wheelchair suppliers in the crowd – asking them to champion these reform efforts and spread the word to their customers to join the effort. “Partner with your customers. Tell them of the challenges facing your businesses and what impact it could have on them.” Tobin also urged attendees to take part in United Spinal Association’s ongoing efforts to improve access to appropriate technologies which promote functional and social independence by joining the organization’s UsersFirst movement and advocacy initiatives such as Roll on Capitol Hill. “We can win this battle if we stand together and work in collaboration,” he said.
To download Tobin’s PowerPoint Presentation from CELA, click here.
A New Electric Vehicle for Wheelchair Users
June 16, 2012, HuffingtonPost.com
A recent addition to the electric vehicle market hopes to bring green transportation to more individuals that use wheelchairs. Translogic’s Bradley Hasemeyer took a test drive of the Kenguru and found it “really fun” to drive. The vehicle, which was originally developed in Hungary, was brought to the U.S. last year by Austin, Texas-based lawyer Stacy Zoern. Two years after Zoern called the Hungarian company, the Kenguru is now manufactured in Pflugerville, Texas.
Noting that, “Manual wheelchair conversions can add $14,000 or more to the cost of a van, minivan or SUV purchase.” Translogic explains that the Kenguru could be a more affordable vehicle option for wheelchair users. Zoern told Hasemeyer that with federal and state electric vehicle incentives and vocational rehabilitation incentives, the vehicle’s $25,000 price tag can be reduced to $20,000 or even, in “some cases,” nothing. The Kenguru, according to Translogic, can travel at speeds up to 25 miles per hour with a 60 mile range. It takes eight hours to fully charge. Hasemeyer said it has “good pickup” and makes “such a great option for someone in a wheelchair.”
Another electric vehicle, the Honda Fit, was recently given the EPA’s highest ever fuel efficiency rating. The combined rating of the 2013 model is the equivalent of 119 miles per gallon, reported AP, with an estimated annual fuel cost of $500. A recent development in lithium ion battery technology could mean that electric vehicles will see a price drop in coming years. A123 System’s technology, known as Nanophosphate EXT, is intended to “prolong [battery] cycle life at extremely high temperatures and deliver high power even at low temperatures,” explained Reuters.