Raising awareness about accessible transportation

Published 7:00 pm Sunday, April 8, 2012

Millions of physically challenged citizens in North America are able to achieve freedom and independence with the use of wheelchair accessible vehicles and other mobility assistance products.

National Mobility Awareness Month commences in May 2012. While its name implies that mobility is the key issue, it’s more about the courage people show when rising above their challenges to make life as good as it can be. And in most cases, it’s about helping others who are facing the same obstacles in life.

The National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA), with help from 600 U.S. and Canadian mobility product members, is the creator of the campaign. To raise awareness, NMEDA is giving away three wheelchair vans, including new Chrysler Town & Country, Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna minivans. Anyone can qualify for the “local hero” essay and video contest, including persons with a physical disability or caregivers, to highlight those who have made a difference in their community and in the lives of others. People can go online and vote for their favorite selections at www.NMEDA.com. The winners will be announced on national television programs and throughout major social media outlets.

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One of the largest handicapped van dealers in country reports that half of its clients drive their own vehicles. Many work, shop, play and enjoy active lives with varied interests, just as able-bodied people do, including numerous wheelchair sporting events. They drive with the use of hand controls, wheelchair docking systems (for those who drive while remaining in their wheelchairs), or special seating that provides for easier transfer to and from a wheelchair. Scooter lifts are also popular products that assist with lifting and storing scooters in the back of a minivan, pickup truck or SUV.

Considering the vast obstacles that wheelchair users must overcome in navigating life, the advent of National Mobility Awareness Month promises to be an eye-opening experience, and an opportunity for all Americans and Canadians to better understand the challenges and successes that these local heroes experience on a daily basis. As MobilityWorks President/CEO Bill Koeblitz puts it, “Mobility issues affect millions of people every single day. This should go a long way toward empowering people and enlightening the general public about some of the main issues affecting the disabled community.”

Everyone involved with the awareness program emphasizes that the use of adaptive products and handicap accessible vans to provide personal transportation is secondary to what the awareness campaign is all about.

“Mobility products help people to get where they want to go,” adds Koeblitz. “But the real story is in the way that people of all ages make the best of what they have, despite what life has dealt them. That’s what inspires people.”

One of the local heroes being nominated by the MobilityWorks’ Pittsburgh location is a burly guy named Jerry “Bull” Baylor. He got the nickname Bull while playing high school football and it still fits his looks and character. After a motorcycle accident left him paralyzed, Jerry didn’t let life get him down. In less than a year, he was entering wheelchair sporting competitions, with his first being in 1981. Today, he is still competing and winning gold medals. He’s been responsible for bringing scores of other disabled veteran athletes to the National Veterans Wheelchair Games every year and in participating in a variety of other sports.

These are the types of stories to be shared that are going to make the National Mobility Awareness Month very special. Wheelchair users, as well as their friends, families and caregivers, are invited to submit their stories as either 400-word essays or as 2-minute videos to the NMEDA website for a chance to win a vehicle, as well as to promote mobility issues and understanding to the general public. The stories will be accepted until May 13, with the winners being announced later in the month.