Medical Supply Depot adds 'virtual' wheelchair

Sunday, September 26, 2010

BROOKLYN, N.Y. - Provider Meir Tsinman likes to push the online envelope. In July, the president of added an app to the site to make it more user-friendly for the disabled.

"We want to serve our customers better and reach out to new ones who can't get online because of their limitations," he said. "The freedom to shop online is a convenience that should be enjoyed by all."

To do that, partnered with Toronto-based essential Ability (eA), which has created an app that acts as a sort of "assistive technology" on the web.

"It's a virtual wheelchair for your website," said Simon Dermer, eA's managing director. "If a person with a disability has trouble typing or moving a mouse or reading a screen and they don't have assistive technology, they can't get online."

Visitors to the click on a wheelchair icon to download the free app. It offers an array of alternative input methods to navigate the site. For example, a quadriplegic can move a "radar mouse" onscreen by moving his head in view of a standard webcam. Someone with limited mobility can move around on the screen just by clicking a mouse with his finger.

"As important as the Internet is to us, it's even more critical for somebody who is physically disabled," said Dermer. "If you are disabled it's daunting to go out there and evaluate or buy equipment. Meir is making it easy for this population."

There was no upfront cost for Tsinman, just a flat monthly fee. The technology is a natural fit for the four-year-old online provider, which offers a full range of medical supplies, bath safety and DME, and last year added wheelchairs and scooters.

Because more and more customers have disabilities, the eA app will allow Tsinman to tap into a larger pool of potential customers. Dermer estimates that there are about 20 million Americans who could benefit from the technology. Other companies that already use it include Staples and Home Depot.

Perhaps most important, Tsinman and Dermer both say, is making accessibility a mainstream concept.

"We get to do something positive for society that also benefits us," said Tsinman. "We get to play a pivotal role in helping the disabled migrate online."