Image of pageindex72008.gif

Image of youindustry.jpg

If I asked what entities comprise the mobility industry, you'd likely note providers, manufacturers, clinicians (and, possibly, elected officials who control funding). However, if you're like most, you wouldn't note consumers. And, that has been a divide harming us all: The industry on one side, the consumer on the other and rarely shall the two meet.

However, the fact is, consumers have to be at the center of the mobility industry, and it's time that everyone recognize it especially consumers. This isn't an us-versus-them situation; rather, it's a we situation, and the sooner everyone acknowledges that consumers are the hub of the mobility industry, the sooner there's accelerated progress in all areas from funding to technology to customer service.

Consumers not viewing themselves as the center of the mobility industry a sort of apathy, really has set into affect a downward spiral in funding, technology, and service. We know for a fact that a lack of consumer advocacy toward funding cuts has allowed an erosion of funding, leading to altered product designs due to funding constraints, and negatively impacting service. For example, we know that in recent years, approximately 40 consumers have been regularly attending CELA, our industry's annual Capitol Hill funding advocacy event and those 40 consumers make an impact. However, when only 40 consumers out of an estimated 3 million are active toward preserving mobility funding, it tells our elected officials that we don't care or need mobility funding and so funding has been consistantly slashed (where overall funding is down by a total of 39%, where Group-2 power wheelchair funding is down by as much as 80%, where Group-4 power wheelchairs are no longer funded, where the first round of competitive bidding has slashed service, and competitive bidding is moving full steam ahead nationwide). And, it's all because consumers have allowed it to happen by not participating as stakeholders in the mobility industry (we know this because there's been a clear line between elected officials who have voted against funding cuts as a result of being addressed directly by mobility consumers, while those officials with no consumer affiliations have voted for funding cuts).

Now, you may say, There goes Mark blaming the consumer again for funding cuts! To the contrary, this is a fact-based illustration showing cause and effect, where when consumers don't see themselves as being part of the mobility industry, they don't feel the need to act, harming all aspects of access to mobility products (and, when constituents don't speak up, neither do elected officials). However, we know that those consumers who act upon critical issues have a huge impact. Therefore, it's seen how we need to shift from 40 consumers as part of the mobility industry, to 3 million strong, quickly resolving the issues at hand. So, how do we do that?

The answer is, consumers have to dedicate themselves to being part of the mobility industry it's that straight forward. They have to advocate for funding. They have to participate in industry events. And, they have to be an integral part of the product design process. These are the three crucial areas that consumers have ignored for too long.

Annually, CELA is an opportunity for all mobility consumers to convey a unified message to Capitol Hill about present funding issues and needs by being there in-person, calling, or emailing. Medtrade, the mobility industry's trade show, is open to consumers to fully integrate with the industry as a whole, from technology to trends. And, many of our doors, as manufacturers, are open to consumers (in my case, I literally give tours of my facility, desire product feedback, and want consumers involved in the design process, so all you have to do is schedule an appointment with me, and my office is turned over to you and your wishes you're my boss). Consumers should seize these opportunities to be the center of the mobility industry, to serve themselves and others.

Indeed, the opportunities for consumers to seize their rightful, imparative positions in the mobility industry are there. Funding should be protected by consumers, not dictated by elected officials. Technology should be inspired by the consumer, not driven by the manufacturer. And, service should be to the consumer's satisfaction, not the professional's. However, in order for any of this to happen, consumers have to show up and get involved. And, if they assume their roles in the mobility industry, consumers will hear a resounding sentiment from elected representatives, manufacturers, providers, and clinicians: We work for you.

Published 3/2012, Copyright 2012, WheelchairJunkie.com