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Moving Forward: An Assessment Of Advances In Mobility And What’s Still Needed

A symposium just held in Washington, DC, titled "ADA 20/20: Looking Back, Looking Forward on Mobility," covered topics such as the long-term life benefits of mobility, current technology/support systems, gaps in education, current attitudes toward disability and future needs of Americans with disabilities. In anticipation of the recent 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a panel of key thought leaders from government, medicine, academia and business was asked to exchange insights on current thinking around future mobility needs for Americans with disabilities.

The event was co-sponsored by Braun, the world's largest manufacturer of wheelchair-accessible vans, ramps and wheelchair lifts, and The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), which represents approximately 39,000 occupational therapists, occupational therapy assistants and occupational therapy students.

Five key themes emerged from the discussion:

We've made progress, but we have far to go. Though accessibility began as an issue of meeting requirements, it is evolving to a moral virtue and national imperative. However, while the institution of ADA led to the adoption of much needed policies and technologies, such as modifying public transportation to be accessible to people in wheelchairs, the journey to full accessibility and mobility for people with physical disabilities has been frustratingly slow.

Universal Design creates economic and daily life benefits for everyone. The concept of universal design is to develop products, services and environments in ways that maximize access for all and enhance safety and livability. Applying universal design to mobility products, including the hospitality industry and wheelchair-accessible minivans, was viewed as a necessary means to integrating people with physical disabilities into broader society as well as a collective benefit.

There's a need for ongoing collaboration between business, academic and government sectors. Traditionally, the "disability rights movement" has served as an umbrella under which government agencies, associations and businesses promoted different agendas. A new era is needed where the private and public sector unite to reach common goals of inclusion, accessibility and improved mobility for Americans with disabilities.

There's a need to increase awareness of technology and mobility options. Personal independence and freedom are linked to the ability to transport oneself, and as the number of Americans with disabilities increases with the returning of injured military veterans and with baby boomers taking care of their parents, there is an even greater need to raise awareness of technology and mobility options.

Business has the opportunity to lead the way to shifting perceptions. When the ADA was passed 20 years ago, many business leaders predicted that conforming to its policies might mean bankruptcy for corporations. The business community holds increasingly positive views of employing and meeting the needs of the disabled community, leading a general shift in perception of people with disabilities from "problem" to "opportunity." It is important for companies to have the knowledge to support and keep valued workers on the job as they grow older.

"We have made great strides in providing accessibility to people with physical disabilities," said Ralph Braun, the founder and CEO of the Braun Corporation. "But it's been a slow journey — too slow. We need to find ways to accelerate the process so that 20 years from now the world is significantly more accessible than the one we live in today. People with physical disabilities may need special consideration, but they are not asking for special treatment…just equal access to all the world has to offer." The Indiana-based Braun company was founded by Ralph Braun, who was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy at a young age and unable to walk by age 15. Ralph was motivated by his disability to invent the world's first electric scooter, the Tri-Wheeler, and wheelchair lift, the Lift-A-Way in his parents' garage. Word spread and demand for the product increased, resulting in the birth of Save-A-Step Manufacturing, which ultimately became The Braun Corporation. The company, whose aim is to enable people with physical disabilities to regain mobility and lead active and independent lives, offers the most diverse line of vehicle platforms in the industry, including the BraunAbility Entervan (Chrysler/Dodge and Honda) and the BraunAbility Rampvan (Toyota Sienna).

Based in Bethesda, MD, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) is the national professional association established in 1917 to represent the interests and concerns of occupational therapy practitioners and students of occupational therapy and to improve the quality of occupational therapy services. AOTA's major programs and activities are directed toward assuring the quality of occupational therapy services, improving consumer access to health care services and promoting the professional development of members. AOTA educates the public and advances the profession by providing resources, setting standards, and serving as an advocate to improve health care.