UPitt seeks to cast wider net

Friday, February 20, 2015

The University of Pittsburgh recently announced the creation of the International Society of Wheelchair Professionals (ISWP). The project, which is being funded by a two-year, $2.3 million sub-award from the U.S. Agency on International Development, aims to train and develop a knowledge and skills test for wheelchair service providers, says Jon Pearlman, ISWP director and a faculty member at UPitt. Pearlman recently spoke to HME News about the impact the international society could have on providers at home and wheelchair users abroad. 

HME News: Why the need for an international wheelchair society?

Jon Pearlman: The problems in the U.S. are distinctly different from the problems in Africa and India. In the U.S., there is typically a third-party payer for a wheelchair. In many countries, that third-party payer—the government or private insurance—just doesn’t exist. There’s not nearly enough money going into the healthcare system and they consider people who need wheelchairs as a burden to society.

HME: What kinds of opportunities will the new society offer U.S. providers? 

Pearlman: Out of 70 million potential wheelchair users in the world, 50 million don’t have access, so there is an enormous population simply lying on their beds or being carried around by family members because they don’t have access to wheelchairs. The potential market is much larger, but to have those chairs paid for, there needs to be more awareness about the importance of having good chairs.

HME: How can U.S. providers tap into those markets?

Pearlman: Part of the international society’s goals is to help raise awareness. It’s trying to change the minds of the people in charge of the policies in these countries, but also trying to raise awareness of how wheelchair users can contribute significantly to society. What the industry could do to help us, is advocate for the use of proper technology. That opens tremendous growth in the market for wheelchairs.