It’s National Mobility Awareness Month and who better to sit down with than Dave Hubbard? The CEO and Executive Director of the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association—which established the month of awareness and education—talks with Mediaplanet abut the mobility vehicle industry, where it’s been and where it could be headed.

Mediaplanet: How has the mobility vehicle industry changed in the past 10 years?

Dave Hubbard: The most notable changes in the past ten years have been in the areas of driving controls. Both electronic drive-by-wire systems that allow a person with a severe disability (Quadriplegic) to regain their freedom and independence, and the simpler mechanical driving controls have improved dramatically with respect to safety and functionality.

We’ve also seen an increase in the types of wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAV) that have appeared on the market. A person driving from a wheelchair now has a choice beyond the vans or minivans. SUV’s and pickups are now being modified by reliable manufacturers who adhere to the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards required by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

MP: What innovations are you most excited about for the next 10 years?

DH: It’s hard to say what the future holds. There are already programs in place testing driverless cars on our highways, (i.e. the Google car) that can be completely programmed to reach a specified destination without requiring a driver. Once vehicles (or driving systems) like these are made wheelchair accessible it could be a real help to all people with a disability.

"There are approximately 18 million people in the U.S. and Canada with mobility issues and the sad fact is that most of the people who need mobility products can’t afford them."

The biggest issue facing people requiring specialize mobility assistance is and has always been financing. There are approximately 18 million people in the U.S. and Canada with mobility issues and the sad fact is that most of the people who need mobility products can’t afford them. My hope for the future is that accessible transportation (public and private) become more accessible to the people who need it to live independent and fulfilling lives.

MP: You established National Mobility Awareness Month, can you tell us about that process?

DH: The fact is that automotive mobility solutions and how to find them are one of the best-kept secrets around today. It’s not something most people need or want to know about, but we all know someone who could use or needs some type for mobility assistance whether it a modified vehicle or just a lift-and-swivel seat help mom get in and out of the car.

The National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA) started National Mobility Awareness Month to showcase the many mobility products and solutions that are available to people through qualified automotive mobility dealers. It’s all about getting the word out and in the process of helping people with disabilities feel good about themselves and take pride in their accomplishments.

MP: What is the main theme of the awareness month this year?

DH: The focal point of National Mobility Awareness Month is the Local Heroes Contest. Each May NMEDA sponsors the online contest for people to nominate themselves or their Local Hero and tell what makes them a hero in their community. They talk about their accomplishments and what they have done to give back to the community and inspire others despite having a disability. We place their stories online and each participant then asks their friends and relatives and their friends and relatives to vote for them. At the end of the contest the top 10 percent of the vote getters become semi-finalists and their stories are turned over to a panel of healthcare professionals who volunteer as judges. The stories are reviewed and voted on through multi-tiered process and the winners are chosen based on their story’s merits.

For the past four years NMEDA has awarded at least three vehicles each year to deserving winners. The vehicles have been generously provided by Chrysler LLC, Toyota USA and Valley Honda in Phoenix, AZ with accessible ramp conversions donated BraunAbility, Vantage Mobility International and ElDorado National mobility manufacturers. In addition, because each disability is unique, other NMEDA member manufacturers provide the necessary equipment (special seats, driving controls, wheelchair restraints, etc.) necessary to modify the vehicle to the winner’s specific needs. Since its inception we have had 5,272 Local Heroes entries and 9,031,981 (over 9 million) votes.

MP: What is one piece of advice that you can give our readers on finding a vehicle to best suit their needs?

DH: Make sure that any adaptive automotive equipment or vehicle you purchase is manufactured by a reputable company that is in compliance with the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and that the installations are done by a qualified NMEDA member Quality Assurance Program (QAP) Dealer. Every NMEDA member dealer is required to comply with a set of QAP Rules that include having the proper amount of insurance, ADA compliant facilities, a safe environment for ingress and egress from the vehicle, the right tools properly calibrated, training certificates on all the products they install and service, 24 hour emergency service and much more.

Every NMEDA member dealer is audited each year by a third party audit firm to insure compliance to the QAP Rules. Providing people who have a disability with independence and freedom is a wonderful thing. Keeping everyone on the highways safe is critical.