Devera Lynn is the Director of Marketing and Communications for United Spinal Association, a not-for-profit dedicated to enhancing the lives of people with spinal cord injuries and disorders. Since joining the organization only one year ago, Lynn has been developing an innovative blueprint to extend the scope of the Association's national marketing and communications outreach.
ASK PATTY: Can you tell me a little bit about your work with the United Spinal Association?
Devera: For more than 60 years, United Spinal Association has committed our energy and our talents to improving the lives of individuals with a spinal cord injury or disorder. Our initiatives, in promoting inclusion, improving access, fostering independence, enhancing mobility, and demanding equality, along with our commitment to member service, has helped to improve the quality of life and to create opportunities for our members and all people with spinal cord injuries or disorders (SCI/D).
ASK PATTY: What are some of the resources you provide for your members?
Devera: United Spinal Association has many resources for our members who are people with SCI/D. Membership, which is free, includes assistance and support when navigating health and benefits programs, educational tools on self advocating, sports and recreational opportunities and we continue to provide, since our founding year of 1946, veterans services. One of United Spinal’s very unique member benefits is the ability to have access to Able to Travel. This travel service is specifically designed to assist anyone with a spinal cord disability with their travel arrangements. This is especially important regarding accessible hotels and transportation. Our travel agents will provide detailed reports about the accessibility of the places you will stay or visit. This includes knowing how many steps you may need to traverse or the availability of an elevator, etc. Basically we say there will be no surprises when you arrive. One of our very important resources to our members is United Spinal’s monthly magazine called Action, which keeps people informed and up to date on issues relating to SCI/D, including news, research, policies, advocacy efforts, features, new technology and other important topics. Knowing the importance of assitive technology and perpetual advances, United Spinal offers USA TechGuide, a much needed virtual resource. The site is set up so visitors may rate mobility devices such as wheelchairs, lifts, scooters and any other assitive technology. USATechGuide is the number one Web site for assitive technology in the nation.
ASK PATTY: How has United Spinal Association been active in the community? Are you working toward changing the rules of accessibility?
Devera: United Spinal Association is dedicated to advocating for people with disabilities. We are continuously lobbying in Washington D.C. for the civil rights for people with disabilities. We helped draft significant passages of the American Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fair Housing Act. We pioneered accessible transit in New York City, which has become a national model for public transit. Advocacy is an important part of what we do. United Spinal also looks to enlist the public to help change policies through grassroots advocacy campaigns. Accessibility Services is also a service that we provide where we review facilities on accessibility. It’s important for businesses to understand ADA requirements and it’s even more impressive when a company utilizes our expertise to ensure that they go above and beyond in the design of a facility, making it much more accessible and creating a more appropriate environment. Our architects and other specialists have years of experience and extremely impressive records of success. This includes, the new Yankee and Mets Stadiums, Wachovia Center, United States Department of Agriculture, Mayfair Hotel, Poland Spring, American Airlines Arena and PepsiCo. For all the publics United Spinal Association offers a booklet called Disability Etiquette so you may learn how to act appropriately when interacting with people with disabilities. It is an easy read, extremely accurate and is highly informative!
ASK PATTY: Tell me about your recent partnership with Sports Car Club of America. What are you doing in conjunction with the SCCA?
Devera: While we offer wheelchair sports and other recreational activities to people with SCI/D including wheelchair basketball, quad rugby, tennis, etc. we discovered that anyone can participate in motorsports – even with hand controls. We recently discovered the Sports Car Club of America and a specific event that they offer called Solo. Basically, you go to the race site and you have your car inspected, put on a helmet, and hit the track! Vehicles race one at a time around cones and they are timed. As we investigated this type of racing we thought this might be a great sport to introduce to our members. Whether using hand controls or foot pedals, it really puts all participants on an equal playing field. United Spinal officially partnered in July with SCCA and we are working together to encourage members and people with disabilities to get involved with motorsports. It’s truly an opportunity for anyone to enhance their quality of life. Now we are working to build the partnership to get word about the availability of Solo. If you don’t want to drive on the track, there are other opportunities to get involved as a member. You can volunteer to do timing and flagging even if you don’t want to race. We are also hoping to raise SCI/D awareness by racecar drivers displaying the United Spinal logo on their vehicles in support of our program.
ASK PATTY: Tell is a little bit about your team with Carol Hollselder.
Devera: United Spinal has developed a motorsports team with committee members from the motorsports industry to assist United Spinal with our campaign. This includes professional racecar driver and prior spokesperson for Ford Mobility Carol Hollfelder, rookie NASCAR driver Justin Bonsignore, SCCA Regional Development Manager Mike Dickerson and SEMA award-winning truck modifier Steve Bucaro. Motor Trend radio News Director Jeff Bressler is also involved with this team as well as Ask Patty!
ASK PATTY: Are there many women involved in the SCCA program?
Devera: I was recently at the SCCA banquet dinner for the National Solo event and I didn’t realize how many women were driving in the SCCA. I was delighted not only to see how many drivers attended but also how many received awards! There is a Ladies division and an Open Class division where women can race among the men. Not only is there a tremendous amount of camaraderie between the women at these events, but it was very nice to see how family-oriented they were. You even see husbands and wives racing together or against each other!
ASK PATTY: Do you offer other driving workshops or classes for people with spinal cord disorders?
Devera: United Spinal Association can refer people who request information on training with hand controls to driving professionals. Mandatory driver training is a key element in the proper utilization of adaptive automotive equipment. Certified driver rehabilitation specialists and technicians throughout the country are responsible for training new drivers with disabilities. Training involves educating individuals in the proper use of adaptive equipment, evaluating their abilities and performance, and developing their competency in a full range of driving environments to prepare them for obtaining or retaining a driver’s license. On another note United Spinal is in the development stages of a motor safe program that will include all motorized vehicles and recreational vehicles. We find this is especially important for everyone who gets behind the wheel, as 44% of people who have spinal cord injury from a motor vehicle accident. The total number is of people with spinal cord injuries are estimated to be about 250,000 and nearly half of those were from the motor vehicle injury. Every 41 minutes a person in the U.S. sustains a spinal cord injury which equals to about 11,000 per year. That’s eye-opening.
ASK PATTY: Can you tell me about your personal experience with spinal cord injuries and disorders?
Devera: Someone who has a spinal cord injury or disorder is the same as anyone else. A person is a person and there is no difference. This includes having families, jobs and responsibilities. Tasks and daily living for people with disabilities can be much more taxing, especially logistically. It is United Spinal’s goal to heighten public awareness of the disadvantages and barriers that people with disabilities face and hopefully help change landscapes and mindsets.
ASK PATTY: What if any are the big changes you are seeing today in how vehicles are being marketed to women?
Devera: One specific trend that is very obvious is the change from a small vehicle (such as a station wagon) shoving kids and friends into cars with very little safety equipment to having very elaborate vans and SUVs that not only cater to space and safety, but entertainment options as well. All these things help the mobility of women in general as well as women with disabilities. While so many women have careers, the industry still recognizes that women are generally the caretakers and I think that the industry will continue to market to the mother rather than the working women. Convenience and family options are still very appealing.
ASK PATTY: Have you seen any changes or improvements on how vehicles are being marketed to people with disabilities? Are there more options now than in previous years?
Devera: Automotive adaptability equipment has improved dramatically over the years. There were 383,000 modified vehicles in 1997. There have been significant upgrades and changes to adaptive auto products even since then. It’s all about mobility and now that people can have options with vehicles they can have more freedom and independence, which is all anyone wants. It opens the door to enhancing quality of life.
ASK PATTY: Tell me about your most recent personal experience buying a vehicle. What vehicle did you buy, and why did you buy it?
Devera: I bought a Chevy Colorado. I had a female salesperson who was great with the sales experience. The pitch was although was to a women who was buying with kids in mind, which is not my need. I think she also might have thought I was going through some type of mid-life crisis. When I was first checking out this pickup truck she said to me, “I just sold a truck to another woman who felt she needed a change in life after a divorce.” Not, “Oh you want a truck. Okay.” Trucks have changed though since I last drove one; the suspension is great, it really drives much more like an SUV. I did buy the truck and when I was driving with my mother in law she thought it was really nice! She was very surprised by the roominess, as it also has the crew cab. I did have one interesting observation. I pulled the visor down on the driver’s side and there was no mirror there. There was one on the passenger side only! It’s as if they figure only men should be driving this vehicle and the women only ride along. Although I know plenty of men who use a mirror!
ASK PATTY: What is some good advice you would give someone with a spinal cord disorder before they buy a new vehicle?
Devera: Just like anyone else, do the research and speak with someone else with a disability who drives with hand controls or any modification you might be considering. There might be new technologies you don’t know about. Look into what you will need and use the internet to assist with your research. Make sure you inquire about financial assistance toward the cost of the installation of adaptive equipment. A lot of manufacturers have programs specifically when purchasing new vehicles and you should utilize them. To learn more, visit our site and USA Tech Guide.