Competitive Drive?

Tomorrow marks the end of the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA)‘s fifth annual Local Heroes Contest. Thank goodness! Why do I hate it? Let me count the ways…

  1. The name. We can get the obvious out of the way first. Local “heroes”? Clearly, the Association is referring to people with disabilities as heroes. It’s inspiration porn at its worst. The people, for the most part, entering the contest are regular, every day individuals that simply need some assistance with transportation needs. Being disabled does not equate to heroism.
  2. The design. You might say, “Well, Emily, some disabled people are heroes. What about the disabled vet who had his legs blown off in Afghanistan? What about the gal who tirelessly fought to expand independent living services in her county? Isn’t it great that the Association wants to get these people more mobile?” If only that were true… Instead, anyone can enter the contest. And the public at large votes for the top contenders. That’s right, my friend: the Association is merely sponsoring a popularity contest with the objective of getting its name out there.
  3. The private consequences. A new van generally costs around $60,000, depending upon the modifications required by each user. This makes it incredibly difficult for many people with disabilities to secure personal transport.  I entered the contest the first year, not realizing what a disgrace it is. I quit promoting myself after I realized at the vast majority of my friends with physical disabilities also entered the contest. Social media feeds began to get nasty, with friends arguing one was more deserving another. Not something I wanted to be a part of.
  4. The public consequences. Absolutely nothing. Can the Association demonstrate how the contest has benefited people with disabilities in an overarching manner? I think not. More groups have not been created to lower the cost of accessible vehicles. Individuals are still struggling to make it to health appointments and work on a daily basis. The contest has done nothing other than result in vehicles for a few people, whose contributions are generally unremarkable.

I would encourage NMEDA members to quit supporting such a ridiculous endeavor. Time and money could better be spent creating sustainable programs that would support more individuals in accessing their own accessible vehicles. Why not start a low-interest car loan program? Why not offer smaller grants to people that are genuinely engaged in heroic pursuits that benefit the disability community? It’s high time the existing contest hit the road.

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