ARCHIVED  March 1, 1996

Disabled don’t benefit from tech advances

The durable medical goods industry has witnessed incredible advances in technology during the past two decades. Unfortunately, many of its consumers have not shared in the benefits.
Disabled people now have a wide range of choices when it comes to their equipment, but many items are high-priced, difficult to obtain, and often not covered by their insurance companies.
“The technology has come a long way, but the delivery system hasn’t,´ said Bruce Roemmich, a freelance consultant to the durable medical-goods industry. Roemmich explained that designers and manufacturers working in the industry have not adopted many of the professional techniques of other high-tech industries.
“These people don’t take advantage of mass production and lower costs – more often, you see people in the rehabilitation industry trying to reinvent the wheel,” Roemmich said.
He cites the power-wheelchair industry as one lagging behind. Power wheelchairs range anywhere from $4,000 to $15,000 in cost, depending on individual features, and rarely does the user get to test a prototype. Roemmich likens the process to “buying a car from a catalog.”
Once an order for a chair is processed, delivery can take several months.
“Things like custom seating can be outgrown by the user in that amount of time,” Roemmich said.
Cady Chleboun, office manager for her family’s Wheelchair House of Colorado Ltd., agrees that the process of getting a wheelchair is time-consuming.
“Some things are too slow,” Chleboun said, “but nothing is standard anymore. Every person that is disabled has a different need – things can take longer when customization is involved.”
One Northern Colorado durable medical-goods company that has taken cues from other service-oriented high-tech industries is Fort Collins-based Rand-Scot Inc. The company produces the EasyPivot Transfer Machine, used to reposition disabled or elderly people for sleeping, bathing, dressing and moving. The design of the machine safely allows a small person to reposition a large person without exerting a great deal of force.
A person can order a customized EasyPivot, which starts at around $1,200, and receive it within 10 days.
“We’re quick because we have to be,´ said Joel Larich, president of Rand-Scot. He explained that a person responsible for lifting an immobile person on a regular basis quickly realizes the task is impossible without employing others to help.
“We have a modular system,” Larich said of his company. “We can produce a customized machine in a week because we keep all of the pieces in stock.”
Rand-Scot produces 40 to 60 finished machines each month and has annual revenue of more than a million dollars.
Another Northern Colorado durable medical-good manufacturer tailoring its services to customers is Johnstown-based Judson Enterprises. The company manufactures a portable automobile-control device for people with partial or full paralysis of their legs.
Assembly of the apparatus requires only 30 minutes, and the product sells for just $365. It can be installed into any automatic car in just a few seconds and can be transferred from one car to another.
“The attitude is if you’re handicapped, then you’re done, and the rest of the world will go its way and take care of you,´ said Rick Judson, president of Judson Enterprises. “This [device] gives the freedom that a normal person has.”
Two-year-old Judson Enterprises is already exporting the device to distributors around the world.
At CSU’s Assistive Technology Resource Center, software and ergonomic work stations are developed for people with disabilities. Erin Scott, coordinator for the center, sees potential in this market that has yet to be realized.
“One of the most successful companies that is making products for the handicapped, and has a big chunk of the adapted computing market – they think they’re so small they don’t even have a rep in Colorado,” Scott said.
One reason the assistive-technology market lags is profitability.
Many items are considered luxuries by insurance companies and are therefore not covered, but Bruce Roemmich believes there is money to be made in this market.
“The industry has not attracted a lot of people in the past, but it can be profitable if it is run right,” he said.
Universalizing products is one way to make money manufacturing goods for this market. That means developing and distributing products that can be used by the entire population, including those with disabilities.
Northern Colorado assistive-equipment manufacturersAssistive Technology Resource Center
300 OT Building
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, Colo. 80523
(970) 491-6258
Product: adapted computing equipmentABC’s Signworks Inc.
4619 S. Mason St. C-4
Fort Collins, CO 80525
(970) 223-9211
Product: ADA-compliant signageJudson Enterprises
P.O. Box K
Johnstown, Colo. 80534
(970) 587-5158
Product: automobile hand controlsRand-Scott Inc.
401 Linden Center Drive
Fort Collins, Colo. 80524
(970) 484-7967
Product: EasyPivot Transfer Machines

The durable medical goods industry has witnessed incredible advances in technology during the past two decades. Unfortunately, many of its consumers have not shared in the benefits.
Disabled people now have a wide range of choices when it comes to their equipment, but many items are high-priced, difficult to obtain, and often not covered by their insurance companies.
“The technology has come a long way, but the delivery system hasn’t,´ said Bruce Roemmich, a freelance consultant to the durable medical-goods industry. Roemmich explained that designers and manufacturers working in the industry have not adopted many of the professional techniques of…

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