The rehabilitation and assistive technologies sector looks back at 2020
The rehabilitation and assistive technologies sector looks back at 2020
Conventions, exhibitions, trade fairs – the rehabilitation and assistive technologies sector had big plans for 2020. Along came the coronavirus pandemic and changed everything. Profoundly and radically. Events had to be cancelled, personal contacts had to be drastically restricted, completely altering daily and public life in the process. How has the industry responded to the crisis?
Many companies in the assistive devices and rehabilitation industry sent their employees to the home office whenever possible. After all, it is particularly important to enable them to work safely if they belong to the risk group due to their disability.
Restricted care and services for children with disabilities
The rehaKIND e.V. support association also had big plans for 2020. "We had several trade fair participations with different programs planned and also intended to prepare for our Focus CP rehaKIND Congress in February 2021," says Christiana Hennemann, Executive Director of rehaKIND – Internationale Fördergemeinschaft Kinder- und Jugend Rehabilitation e.V. (International Pediatric and Adolescent Rehabilitation Support Program). "All this was on the agenda in addition to our regular public relations work in politics, committees and participating provider organizations; not to mention parent/family support services to answers questions related to assistive aids and services and our training courses." The main congress has now been postponed until March 2022 to hold safe face-to-face meetings between the professions and affected parties.
It is the personal contacts and networking that the rehaKIND team misses the most. Although things were a little quieter during this pandemic year, it did not mean there were less issues to address while the team worked remotely from home: Hennemann states that the contact restrictions have especially left children and families lacking as far as social relationships are concerned, while their needs were also not fully met from a medical and therapeutic perspective. "The respective providers didn’t visit the schools, centers, and clinics in the spring. Understandably, families were also afraid of any outside visitors. That meant important care services – orthotics for children with cerebral palsy, for example – fell by the wayside or were postponed and tackled at a later date," says Hennemann.
The situation also proved difficult for the association members: At first, many were unsure of how to manage patient contacts. Moreover, big investments had to be made to implement effective protective measures. Shift work and general changes in processes and operations resulted in a backlog the association had to manage since the summer, incorporating relaxed restrictions and difficult hygiene concepts. After all, "the children and adolescents still need their assistive technology and orthotic devices."
Addressing needs with virtual solutions
Martina Koepp knows the coronavirus has not changed the need for supplies, information, and counseling in any way: The managing director of the German Society for Gerontechnology (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Gerontotechnik® mbH, GGT) reports that the coronavirus pandemic has strongly affected GGT's services this year. Meanwhile, the need for assistance on issues like 'aging in place and remaining independent in your home' and 'mobility and health care' remains high. "Nevertheless, the first lockdown forced us to close down GGT’s permanent exhibition – which occupies a generous 1,200 square meters – for a few weeks."
Interest in the work of the GGT and these subjects remains unchanged despite the coronavirus pandemic. Besides the active communication networks that put 'demographic changes' and the challenges for markets at the center of considerations, the association also set up innovative virtual exhibition tours, which quickly gained enormous popularity and continue to reach a wide audience.
That being said, it is clear to Koepp that "nothing replaces a personal visit and the physical contact with the product whenever in-person consulting and exhibitions are an option." A fact that is also reflected in the reopening of the permanent exhibition thanks to a sophisticated hygiene concept. It has since welcomed many consumers and multipliers as visitors. This development makes Koepp optimistic about "our post-COVID-19 trade fair and exhibition presences – including our attendance at REHACARE 2021."
The Ottobock plasma generator disinfects the air in the room and can thus ensure safety during working hours.
Confronting the crisis with creativity
Hope and faith – all of us could probably use some of these positive aspects to make it through this unprecedented year. Creativity is certainly helpful in this situation – as an inventive way to adapt a company’s services and products, for example. When the coronavirus prompted a rapid increase in demand for hygiene and protective equipment, Ottobock SE & Co. KGaA responded quickly and expanded its product portfolio. The items the company produced are still in high demand and help prevent infections. But the company didn’t stop there and has actively searched for other ways to help contain the spread of the coronavirus: The Ottobock Planning & Equipping, Materials Department now also offers an extensive portfolio of hygiene products including air purifiers, which can be used in orthopedic device companies and other facilities. These air purifiers offer on-site protection for both the orthopedic technicians and patients during working hours.
Several vehicle conversion companies have also been creative this year and came up with ways to ensure safe mobility during the coronavirus pandemic. This resulted in protective screens for taxi companies, driving schools or transportation services as a discreet solution to protect passengers.
While companies like Sodermanns and Veigel plan to distribute their hygiene products while there is an acute need, AMF-Bruns has decided to pursue a different strategy. "We have made the protective partition screen a permanent part of our product lineup since we expect that virus protection and hygiene are issues that will be with us for a long time," says Gerit Bruns, managing director of AMF-Bruns GmbH & Co. KG. "We continue to develop solutions to face hygiene challenges in vehicles. Our latest product is the AMF-Bruns Sani Station, an automatic sanitizer dispenser with an integrated infrared thermometer. The Sani station is ideal for larger vehicles, indoor and office use, and has just come onto the market."
Coronavirus crisis: Turning tough times into new beginnings
The Mobilitätsmanufaktur KADOMO GmbH used the coronavirus crisis and two incidences of water damage at its headquarters in Hilden as an opportunity to set a new course for the future and make the best of a bad situation: "We created lounges in our business premises that are separate from the main space and invite conversation. Our customers are shielded from any office activities, allowing our associates to provide services while practicing social distancing," explains Udo Späker, Sales and Marketing Manager at KADOMO. "Since our lounges have a digital setup, we can use screens to show videos and illustrate our conversion options. This allows us to offer our customers a comprehensive, competent, and safe initial consultation." To learn about other creative solutions vehicle conversion companies came up with this year, read our article The promise of mobility – even during the coronavirus pandemic.
Like KADOMO, FDS Hotels gGmbH also tackled the challenges it faced resulting from the coronavirus pandemic: When the number of infections started rising in the spring along with an increasing number of booking cancellations, the company decided to make lemonade out of lemons: "We made great use of this time and completed extensive renovations on technical systems – especially at the Seehotel Rheinsberg. This meant we took measures we would normally only implement during hotel closing dates," says Stefan von Schlotheim, managing director of FDS Hotel gGmbH. That was probably a smart choice – given that the coronavirus pandemic has hit the hospitality industry especially hard. For a look back on how the hotel and travel industry has managed to carry on this past year, read our article Accessible travel: How the industry has survived its first summer of COVID-19.
Changes and challenges in 2020 – nearly every industry sector and person had to cope with an unprecedented year. Nobody can predict what the next year will hold. Still, I think we speak for everyone when we say that when we get to look back on the year 2021, we all hope it will tell a tale of fewer upheavals and drastic changes and sees the rehabilitation and assistive technologies sector finally back on its feet.