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What do the best financial advisors, car dealers, and hardware store salesmen all have in common? They all have the heart of a teacher.

If you think about the best sales experiences you've ever had, they likely occurred because the salesperson didn't push you toward a single product or pressure you into a purchase; rather, the salesperson likely treated you with honesty and integrity, educating you on your purchase options, while ultimately leaving it to you to make the buying decision, the one that felt right to you.

Among the most common questions that consumers with disabilities ask is, what do I look for in a quality rehab technology provider in selecting my next high-end wheelchair? And, the answer is a simple one: The heart of a teacher.

Providers as Guides
The fact is, few products in our lives are as individualized as our wheelchairs. Almost no two rehab wheelchairs are ever alike, and certainly, no two users are ever alike, so common sense rightfully says that “selling” rehab wheelchairs as one-size-fits-all products is the wrong approach for a provider, and is a sales environment that should be avoided by consumers. However, what is appropriate is for a rehab provider to work as a professional “guide” for consumers, helping them best understand their needs and which technologies may best apply – and then allowing the consumers to steer the decision making process as to make and model. After all, if the provider has a wealth of experience and knowledge, and the consumer best knows his or her lifestyle and preferences, together the best purchase decisions are formed.

Finding the Skills of a Professional, With the Heart of a Teacher
Now, some might say that finding such an ideal provider – one with the heart of a teacher – is a difficult task. However, they're truly not that rare, especially when consumers know what to look for.
Interestingly, many who need a new high-end wheelchair start off with a well-intended, but slightly vulnerable approach – but not without good reason. Disability experience typically places consumers among many professionals – from doctors to therapists – who simply have the consumer's best interests in mind. And, it's natural for consumers to see wheelchair selection as an extension of the medical process, where one assumes that like doctors and therapists, a wheelchair provider only has the consumer's best interests in mind. However, while many terrific providers put a consumer's needs before all else, not all providers do – it is a business, after all – and this is why it's so important for consumers to approach this process with optimism, but not without discretion.

While researching providers best starts with personal recommendations from professionals and peers – who do your neighbors with disabilities recommend? – the phone book and local advertisements aren't necessarily bad leads, either, namely because this is merely the absolute starting point of picking a provider. In this way, one shouldn't entirely avoid simply picking a provider from the phone book or local strip mall, as the forthcoming screening process will confirm the provider's merit.

No matter how one finds a provider, the first aspect to look for is professional certification. One wouldn't seek an accountant, attorney, or counselor without certifications, and the same holds true for seeking a rehab technology provider. Through meeting criteria in applicable education, professional practice, and formal examination, rehab providers can become certified by the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA) as an Assistive Technology Supplier (ATS), and an Assistive Technology Practitioner (ATP) – two professional benchmarks that demonstrate competence. In fact, in order for a provider to sell rehab wheelchairs, Medicare requires the ATS certification. No, such certifications don't guarantee excellent service – after all, there are poor professionals in every field. However, seeking a certified provider confirms that he or she has some knowledge, training, and accountability – aspects that are a must-have in a desirable in a provider. (To confirm a provider's ATS/ATP certification, one can look for it as commonly as on the provider's business card and literature, or look it up in the RESNA directory at http://www.resna.org/find/index.php.)

Once one establishes a provider's certification, one should arrange an initial consultation to discuss one's needs. During the consultation one's disability and lifestyle should be discussed in-depth. In fact, many providers complete a client history survey that entails obtaining extensive background information to ensure that all needs are understood.

Avoiding Mobility Pitchmen
A red flag – meaning, avoid that provider – is when a provider asks virtually no questions, and steers one toward a specific model. While one may not wish to second-guess an “expert” – especially when the expert sounds knowledgeable – the fact is, a provider is only an expert after asking relevant background questions of the consumer's disability, living environment, transportation, positioning needs, and on and on. In such a situation, where the provider doesn't perform a full evaluation, but simply tries to sell a product, the consumer faces two inherent risks: Receiving an inappropriate wheelchair, and risks non-existent after-the-sale support (due to the reality that those looking only to earn an immediate sales commission are rarely responsive after the sale). Therefore, the minute that a rehab provider clearly demonstrates that he or she has the motives of a salesperson  rather than the heart of a teacher, one should immediately seek another provider.

Rules of the Rehab Road
After one has performed the needed homework of finding a reputable rehab technology provider – asking for recommendations, confirming credentials, and assessing behavior during an initial consultation – there are the professional practices that consumers should expect from a competent rehab provider in the selection, ordering, fitting, and maintenance of a high-end wheelchair:

1. A provider should respond in a competent manner, returning phone calls promptly, maintaining appointments, making repairs in a timely fashion, and handing paperwork appropriately.

2. A provider should recognize and understand the physiological, functional, and technical needs of the consumer, striving to communicate effectively, attentively listening to the consumer. If a provider is unclear on any issues, he or she should strive to consult with other knowledgeable parties related to the consumer, including a therapist, doctor, or family member. If the provider is not trained in an area of specialty that the consumer needs, he or she should call in another professional for assistance, or direct the consumer toward one whom can best meet the consumer's needs.

3. A provider should have full, up-to-date knowledge of product specifications and appropriate product applications, and provide the consumer with an array of product choices that meet the consumers physiological and functional needs, as well as the performance and stylistic wishes of the consumer.

4. A provider should fully discuss pricing and funding options with the consumer, fully explaining the consumer's financial responsibility.

5. A provider should inform the consumer of the right to work with a supplier of the consumer's choice.

6. A provider should notify the consumer of any complaint resolution procedure within the governing organizations of which he or she's credentialed.

7. A provider should responsibly handle ordering, assembly, fitting, adjusting, delivery, and follow-up adjustments of products.

8. A provider should take all necessary measures to ensure provision of high-quality equipment, ongoing support, and long-term service.

9. A provider should maintain confidentiality of the consumer's information.

10. A provider should serve all consumers equally regardless of race, creed, gender, sexual orientation, or disability.

This criteria is along the lines of the NRRTS Code, and is the way in which responsible providers serve consumers.

An interesting aspect in this process is in a consumer's right select his provider. Managed and contract health care have greatly convoluted this issue, and the ability to get around an insurer's demands that a consumer deal with a single provider vary by jurisdiction and insurer – as always, read the fine print and research consumers' rights. For example, there was a consumer whose insurer tried to make him deal with a provider he didn't like. After reading up on the laws and policy, he found that the best solution was to work with a provider in the next town whom the insurer also had on contract. Therefore, even in situations where provider choice may seem limited, it's important to explore all options.

Like most decisions in life, there are no absolute guarantees that picking a particular rehab provider won't let you down. However, time and time again, the best mobility purchases are achieved by consumers who prudently select their providers through personal references, verifying credentials, and, most importantly, in looking for the heart of a teacher.  After all, when integrity and dedicated service comes with the sale, you're sure to win.

Published 9/08, Copyright 2008, WheelchairJunkie.com