Abilties Expo – What an Experience!

On three occasions this year, I had the pleasure of attending the Abilities Expos.   The first was in Edison, NJ, second was in Anaheim, CA and last month I was in Minn, MN.   It is such a great expo for people with disabilites because it’s almost a “one stop shop”.  There are many Mobility Equipment Dealers and multiple manufacturers of mobility products, attorneys, local advocacy groups, and so much more, which is why these expos are so valuable.


Some customers are focused on their mobility challenges and are confused when it comes to finding the ideal mobility solution to fit their needs.  Mobility Equipment Dealers are the key to help customers focus on their real needs and matching those needs with the quality and features of available products.  Today’s mobility customer is not just looking for a place to buy a wheelchair accessible van or lift, but for someone who will become part of their relationship, someone they can depend on to take care of them after the sale, someone who provides support service to make owning a mobility product hassle-free.   


Mobility Equipment Dealers are highly knowledgeable in understanding the nature of the customer’s disability.  Dealers will sit down with the customer and ask questions related to their physical limitations and other key questions to determine the best mobility transportation solution for them.  If a dealer is working with a person with a spinal cord injury, they will typically ask two questions: (1) What is the neurological level of the lesion (at what vertebrae did the lesion occur)? (2) What is the extent of the lesion (was it a complete lesion or incomplete lesion)?  These questions help determine the appropriate level of physical ability of the end user.  For example, if someone with a complete lesion above C7 will likely not have use of their triceps so if they are in a manual chair, they may not be able to get up the ramp. 


Mobility Equipment Dealers are educated on the most common diseases causing physical disabilities; Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Arterial Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Muscular Dystrophy (MD), Cerebral Palsy (CP) and Polio / Post Polio.  In addition to common diseases, MED’s also must be knowledgeable on age related disabilities; plain aches and pains to rheumatisms, emphysema and hip replacements. 


Once the Mobility Equipment Dealer assesses the customer’s disability they will ask many questions about their lifestyle like; What are you currently using to get around, How often will the van be used, Where will you go in your van, Who is the driver, Where is the van parked at home, Where is access at your house, What features are you looking for, What are you looking for as far as seating configurations, etc.  These are all questions asked most likely over the phone or in the Mobility Equipment Dealer’s showroom so that MED can show you the products they feel will best fit your needs. 


The demonstration is probably the most important step in the sales process.   Each van has different dimensions, features and benefits.   As a customer, you want to see, for example, how you can maneuver up the ramp.  A one or two degree ramp angle can be the difference between the van being a perfect fit or unusable.  The door opening height and width along with the head room inside the van are vital to the purchasing decision.  Imagine spending $40,000-$65,000 on a modified van and not being able to get through the door?  What type of restraint mechanism will you need and will you need hand controls? 


Go online and look for Ability Expos, http://www.abilitiesexpo.com/ or other open houses in your area.  Take the time to find the best partner/Mobility Equipment Dealer that you feel most comfortable.  Also take the time to learn about a variety of products and try out as many products as possible to ensure you are purchasing the mobility transportation solution that best fits you and your needs.   Your independence awaits!

VMI Introduces the Honda Odyssey with the Summit Fold-Out Ramp

Phoenix, AZ – August 2008 – VMI is beginning sales of the Honda Odyssey Summit with a fold-out wheelchair ramp. The company has completed all design, engineering and validation processes for the Honda Odyssey, which is their latest lowered-floor, side-entry minivan conversion. VMI has more than 150 authorized dealers who have been certified to sell and service the new Honda Odyssey Summit.

In October of 2006, VMI announced sales of the Honda Odyssey with the Northstar in-floor ramp. Over the past 22 months, they have sold over 2000 of these units to customers all around the world. The feedback from this premier wheelchair-ramp conversion has been overwhelmingly encouraging. Along with the enthusiastic response on the Northstar conversion, came numerous requests for them to build a fold-out wheelchair ramp for the Honda Odyssey.

“The agreement we entered with Honda back in 2006 was a great achievement not only for VMI but for the entire mobility industry,” stated Doug Eaton, president and CEO of VMI.  “Before this time, the only premium wheelchair-accessible minivan on the market was the Toyota. By entering the Honda Odyssey with the VMI Northstar conversion into the marketplace, we opened up more options for people who need a wheelchair-accessible van.”

The Honda Odyssey with the VMI Summit wheelchair-ramp conversion offers the same space and wheelchair maneuverability as the Northstar in-floor conversion. The floor is lowered 11 inches to enhance driver line of sight and provide comfortable headroom.

Honda Odyssey with the VMI Summit Conversion

Honda Odyssey with the VMI Summit Conversion

There are several standard features included on the Honda Odyssey with the VMI Summit conversion that improve quality and ease of use. One such feature is a powered, fold-out wheelchair ramp with smooth and precise ramp operation. There are also perforations in the ramp for increased traction and to help keep the ramp surface clean. The PowerKneel™ system automatically and gently lowers the vehicle to decrease ramp incline and increase accessibility. In addition, there is a self-actuating, anti-rattle mechanism that prevents ramp movement and noise for a quieter ride.

VMI purchases the vehicles from Honda and then modifies them on the assembly line at its Phoenix-based facility. The first Honda Odyssey with the VMI Summit wheelchair-ramp conversion began shipping to mobility dealers nationwide on Aug. 15, 2008.

What is Important When Shopping for a Wheelchair Accessible Van?

Shopping for a wheelchair accessible vehicle can seem overwhelming and daunting, but if you do a little bit of homework, you can save time, frustration and money. 

You should know how tall the wheelchair user is in their mobility device.  Why is this important, you may ask?  How tall the wheelchair user is, will determine what products they can or cannot use.  For example, most wheelchair accessible minivans have a door opening height of about 54” and an interior height of about 57”; some have more or less room.  So, if the wheelchair user sits 58”, the minivan may not be an option for them and they may need to go into a full-size accessible van.  Manufactures of wheelchair accessible minivans are always striving to get more door opening height and interior room to accommodate as many users as possible.

Northstar In Floor Ramp by VMI

VMI Wheelchair Van


How do I know how tall I sit in my chair?

Have a caregiver or relative measure with a tape measurer, from the ground to the top of your head.  Another option is to call your local Mobility Equipment Dealer and arrange a fitting.  Some dealers will even go to you for that fitting as a courtesy.


You should also know all the specifics on the mobility device before shopping for an accessible van.  What is the make and model of your scooter/wheelchair?  Mobility Consultants are familiar with just about every scooter/wheelchair on the market and by having that information readily available may immediately rule out some options when shopping for an accessible van.  For example, if you have a Pride Jazzy 1170 XL Motorized Wheelchair, your Mobility Consultant will immediately know that an accessible minivan will not work.  That particular wheelchair is 30” wide and most accessible minivans have a ramp width and door opening width of less than 30”.


A topic that is a little more sensitive, but one that needs to be addressed is the wheelchair user’s long-term prognosis.  Mobility Consultants want to sell you a product that not only works for you today, but a year or more from now.  Take the time to find the best partner/Mobility Equipment Dealer that you feel most comfortable and that also have your best interests in hand. 


Some customers are focused on their mobility challenges and are confused when it comes to finding the ideal mobility solution to fit their needs.  Mobility Equipment Dealers are the key to help customers focus on their real needs and matching those needs with the quality and features of available products.  Today’s mobility customer is not just looking for a place to buy a wheelchair accessible van or lift, but for someone who will become part of their relationship, someone they can depend on to take care of them after the sale, someone who provides support service to make owning a mobility product hassle-free.  

Do You Know Someone Like Grace?

It’s going to be difficult to write this post because there are so many things to write about, so many emotions, so many stories and countless lives affected, all because of Grace. Grace has Rett Syndrome. If you are like most of us, you don’t know what Rett Syndrome is and have never heard of it. Unfortunately, all of us who know and love Grace , now know what Rett Syndrome is and wish we never had to be educated on this devastating disease.

Born July 28, 2004, Grace is the 4th daughter of my best friend Tara and her husband David. She was the second girl to their family and was a charmer from day one. In March of 2006, Lily Veronica came into the world and blessed Tara and David’s lives, child #5. Not long after Lily was born, Grace began to display some abnormal and unruly behaviors. When Tara would describe these outburst and abnormalities, it was difficult to get a true grasp on what was going on. Intuitively, I chalked them up as Grace approaching her 2nd birthday and thought maybe she was going through early states of the “terrible two’s”. But, Tara knew there was something wrong, she felt it in her gut.

Living 2500 miles away from my best friend for the past 14 years has always been a challenge, but words cannot describe the helplessness I felt not being able to really be there for Tara. But, Tara has an amazing husband David, a wonderful family and a deep love for God. Things continued to get worse for Grace and I remember talking with Tara and asking her to describe Grace and she said “It’s as if she is a caged animal trying to get out.” She would sit there and scream, throw tantrums and there was no reasoning with her. Tara began taking her to doctors and doing research on her own – she had to find an answer, and she did.

On October 24, 2006, Tara sent this email to us all,
“David and I have had an unfortunate discovery about Grace. It is clear to us that she has a disease called Rett Syndrome. There is a blood test that will confirm that the gene is in fact present but results won’t be available for another three weeks. If we were not certain that Grace had this disease, we would not be writing to let you all know. Rett Syndrome is a rare neurological disorder that occurs mostly in girls. The prognosis as I’ve been told by her pediatrician is “terrible” and the effects are devastating. It appears to be severe with Grace as new symptoms appear every couple of weeks. There are varying degrees of the disorder and Grace’s appears to be fast moving and aggressive from what I understand.

The website www.rettsyndrome.org didn’t say anything specific about eye gaze but I would say Grace’s gaze is up at the ceiling 30% of the time. And it looks different to me. Sam (Tara‘s oldest son) has always said that Grace was an angel and he thought she sees God when she looks up. Who knows maybe Rett’s girls do see God and that is why she can’t talk-it’s her secret. I also found a website that is dedicated to Rett’s girls and they call them “Silent Angels.” I have come to recognize and understand that some day Grace’s eyes won’t come back down again and she will keep her eyes set on what will ultimately be her final home~Heaven.”

Tara‘s worst fears were validated and Grace was officially diagnosed with Rett Syndrome in November 2006. Since then, Grace has been in and out of hospitals, has had so many drugs pumped into her little body, it’s amazing that she can open her eyes. Grace is now four years old and her mobility is becoming an issue. Ironically, Tara and David know that a wheelchair accessible van is in their future, and I work for a company that makes them.

When I took this job at VMI three years ago, I knew nothing about the mobility industry, and had limited knowledge of disabilities. I wonder if the reason I somehow landed into this industry was not only help the millions of people whose lives are affected by disabilities, but for a very special one, Grace. When Tara talks to me about her struggles with Grace, her family, her life, etc., it’s a similar conversation I have with numbers of families that I talk to all the time. I can now offer Tara some words of advice or stories from families who are in similar situation.

I will be writing a lot about Grace but what I want to get across more than anything is for everyone to get educated. I’m not saying we all need to be well versed in all disabilities, but when you see someone with a disability or a child with a disability, be patient and be kind. Look at Grace, she doesn’t “look” like there is anything wrong with her. But what we don’t see is the havoc this disease is running on Grace’s brain, stomach, breathing and muscles. The worst part about it is that she can’t speak, she can’t tell Tara and David what hurts, she can only scream and shake violently. When there is a fundraiser, fun run, etc. in your community for MS or Cerebral Palsy, or any other disease, take part. Go and spend the $20 it takes to get out and participate in a 3K walk. Mostly every dollar of those fees goes to the organization that it is sponsoring. Without donations, we will never find a cure for the thousands of diseases that are affecting our loved ones.

Wheelchair Vans and Mobility Transportation Solutions – What is Right For Me?

Finding the right transportation solution can seem like a daunting task, due to all the options that are on the market today; minivans, full-size vans, lifts, turning seats, driving controls, etc.  The good news is that there are helpful and knowledgeable people in your area that can help. There are three major considerations and I call them the “Three S’s”; Safety, Service and Suitability. 


Honda Odyssey with the VMI Summit Conversion

Honda Odyssey with the VMI Summit Conversion


First and foremost, your safety is of utmost concern.  When searching for adapted automotive products, first obtain a driver evaluation to assess your ability to drive (if you will be driving).  These trained professionals not only help you with the determination as to if you should be driving, but can give you recommendations as to what type of vehicle would be suitable for you.  You can located local driver evaluators on the ADED web site, www.aded.net.    


Sales and service are also vital when searching for an accessible vehicle.  Manufacturers of adapted equipment build the products standard; almost a one-size fits all.  However, there are hundreds of disabilities that lend to various levels of mobility.  In addition to the physical limitations, there are hundreds of different types of scooters and wheelchairs.  So, to ensure you are purchasing the right mobility product for your unique and individual need that can only be done with the help and expertise of a local mobility equipment dealer.  Most mobility equipment dealers (MED) have been in business for years, some decades and with that comes a vast amount of knowledge, not only on the product itself but actually fitting you with the best product.  When talking with your local MED, ask questions like: “Do you have 24 hour emergency assistance?”  “Are your technicians trained and certified?”  “Are you a member of NMEDA, www.nmeda.org?”  Then ask yourself, “How easy are they to do business with?”  “Are they listening to me?”


Lastly, while working with your local mobility equipment dealer, find the adaptive vehicle is most suitable for you.  Quality mobility equipment dealers will perform a comprehensive needs analysis with you to determine what is best for you.  They will ask questions about you, your disability, your wheelchair/scooter, your home and family information (how many people will ride in the vehicle) and budget.  You may see a nice shiny wheelchair accessible minivan on the road, and have envisioned yourself riding in it, but how do you know that is the right vehicle for you?  Based on your disability there maybe a lower cost solution for you, like a simple scooter/wheelchair lift or turning seat.  Your local mobility equipment dealer can show you a variety of products and answer any questions or concerns that you may have. 

Check out www.vantagemobility.com to see multiple solutions including wheelchair vans, wheelchair lifts, full-size vans, minivans, etc. 

VMI’s Recent Donation to the Sam Schmidt Organization

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Sam Schmidt, who in 2000 was injured in an Indy Racing League (IRL) practice round.  Sam was diagnosed as a quadriplegic; the result of a severe injury to his spinal cord at the C-3/C-4 levels.  I flew to Indianapolis to present him with a wheelchair accessible Honda Odyssey that VMI converted.  Below is thepress release that went out last month: 

Phoenix, AZ– June 12, -2008 – Vantage Mobility International (VMI) recently donated a wheelchairaccessible Honda Odyssey to Sam Schmidt of the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation.  American Honda Motor Co., Inc. (AHM) supplied the vehicle that VMI adapted with its Northstar conversion, which provides a powered in-floor ramp for unrestricted access and greater interior maneuverability for all types of wheelchairs. 


“I want to personally thank AHM and VMI for their generosity in donating a van and the conversion,” said Sam Schmidt.  ”Honda has been involved with the Foundation’s Racing to Recovery Gala and Day at the Races program, so I appreciate this opportunity to assist them in marketing to a select community.  Also, it’s fantastic to add VMI to our growing list of supporters.  Without their joint participation, this partnership would not have been possible.  Obviously, after racing most of my life, a vehicle is not simply transportation for me.  Having used this new Odyssey throughout the month of May, I can say it is the finest conversion and platform that I have utilized in the eight years since my accident.  I predict that Honda and VMI will gobble up market share with this product!”


Sam Schmidt acknowledged the donation by meeting with Monique McGivney, Marketing Manager of VMI and other representatives in Indianapolis at one of his Day at the Races events.  At racetrack locations nationwide, people with disabilities and family members in the community attend a ‘behind-the-scenes’ guided tour of the garage area and enjoy a catered lunch. Attendees will have an opportunity to meet the drivers and view on-track activities. Guest speakers address many areas of concern, including: transition from inpatient rehabilitation to the home, insurance problems, homecare, family and transportation. 


“Mobility is paramount to freedom and independence,” said Doug Eaton, President and CEO of VMI. “VMI provides technologically-advanced solutions, like the Northstar in-floor conversion we used in the donated vehicle, for people with disabilities to help them face any transportation challenge.  Partnering with Honda to donate another Honda Odyssey with the VMI Northstar conversion is very special.  We couldn’t be more pleased to be able to help Sam and his organization with wonderful vehicle.” 


“Sam Schmidt serves as an inspiration to anyone who has ever had the pleasure of meeting him,” said T.E. McHale, Manager of Motorsports Public Relations for American Honda Motor Company, Inc. “The work he is doing through his Foundation and his Day at the Races program is exemplary, and, through the donation of this Honda Odyssey, we are both proud and grateful to have the opportunity to assist him in his efforts.”