Rip a page from history books

Demand that mobility funding not be about just medical necessity, but quality of life
Monday, January 4, 2016

As we celebrate the 25th year of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a striking contradiction remains toward full inclusion of those with disabilities: The funding model for mobility technology is an antiquated policy that only addresses in-home medical necessity, and denies paths toward overall quality of life. If we are to be a truly inclusive society, this must change.

For those of us in the mobility industry and those of us with disabilities, the deep valley between mobility funding and truly addressing quality of life hasn’t gone unnoticed. A lack of recognition of the true mobility needs of those with disabilities via narrow-sighted mobility funding policy is unjustly holding many lives back. How do those with disabilities achieve full integration without having access to the most liberating forms of mobility technology? Yes, addressing medical necessity is vital and being addressed, however, an individual’s life doesn’t stop there. While mobility technology is important, so are mobility attributes that allow education, career, community and independence—that is, quality of life. 

Then, the question is how do we bring mobility funding policy up to par with the spirit of the ADA and an inclusive society?

We actually have seen the answer to this in a remarkable revolution that occurred in our industry three decades ago. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, mobility funding policy only covered what were commonly called “depot chairs” for manual wheelchair users. Depot chairs were hospital-issue, steel manual wheelchairs that were heavy, cumbersome and restrictive. While they met a criteria of medical necessity, they limited quality of life.

However, in North America, two notable innovators, Jeff Minnebraker and Marilyn Hamilton, were both revolutionizing manual wheelchairs with dramatically lighter, more ergonomic designs, using materials like aluminum. Users of the newer “ultralight” manual wheelchairs saw unbelievable quality-of-life benefits, and word rapidly spread among other consumers and the industry. Funding policy, however, saw a manual wheelchair as a manual wheelchair.

Something remarkable happened, though. Rather than accepting the funding policy of depot chairs, Minnebraker and Hamilton educated consumers on the quality-of-life benefits of ultralight wheelchairs. Then, when consumers were denied this life-changing technology based on limited funding policy, they demanded the right to quality of life through ultralight wheelchairs. As a result, for decades now, ultralight wheelchairs have been funded, right down to the K0005 code.

Today, we find ourselves in the same situation. Life-changing mobility technology exists, but isn’t viewed as a medical necessity—and resounding voices of change must be vocalized. For example, it remains a challenge to fund power seat elevation even though it can double the daily functionality and independence of many consumers. As Medicare declares power seat elevation a non-medical item, users note that adjustable seat height allows safer transfers, greater reach for daily functionality and increased community interaction.

The need for life-changing mobility is evident and the technology exists. In this post-ADA, inclusive era, the one obstacle still holding back those with disabilities is an antiquated mobility funding policy. Let us come together as an industry and consumers, and become a unified, galvanized voice that proclaims injustice, demanding that mobility funding policy doesn’t only meet medical necessity, but truly addresses quality of life for all—as deserved by all.

Scott Meuser is chairman and CEO of Pride Mobility Products and Quantum Rehab. He is a 30-year veteran of the mobility industry.

Mark Smith is general manager of P.R. for Pride Mobility Products and Quantum Rehab. He has used power mobility for 40 years.