Symptom Management

New in Assistive Technology

By Nick Mireles
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 20 percent of Americans have a diagnosed disability, either physical or psychological. Keep in mind that this percentage does not include those who are not formally diagnosed. The most common disabilities are spinal cord or back injuries. Mental impairments include depression, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Neurological impairments – such as multiple sclerosis – account for 11 percent of this population. With so many people experiencing disability, there is an ever-present need for new technologies that foster good quality of life.
Assistive technology for the disabled community has made great strides in the last few decades. AT is an umbrella term that includes assistive, adaptive, and rehabilitative devices for people with disabilities. AT
promotes greater independence by enabling people to perform tasks that they were formerly unable to accomplish or with which they had great difficulty.
 Assistive technology can be divided into three categories: Low-tech, mid-tech, and high-tech. Low-tech devices generally do not require electricity and include walkers, wheelchair ramps, and eating aid utensils. Mid-tech items are generally, but not always, battery operated and include magnifiers, tablets, and hearing aids. High-tech devices are strictly electronic and often require instructions for use. Examples are environmental control units, powered wheelchairs, and voice output devices.
Here are a few recent examples of devices I have recommended:

Active Hands Gripping Aids are a great example of a low-tech device. When you have an injury or a disability that reduces or completely eliminates hand function, it’s catastrophic to your independence. Our world is made for people with fine motor skills. Gripping aids give back that independence by reinforcing your grip, giving back the ability to chop with knives, work out, and so much more. The Active Hands glove functions by tightening a strap in the upper sections, gently pulling your hand into a fist shape. You can adjust the tension to fit the dimensions of multiple items. They are made of tough webbing, comfortable to wear, and are machine washable.

The Pebble Portable Video Magnifier is a great example of a mid-tech device. It is a hand-held portable video magnifier for the visually impaired. You simply hold the magnifier over things you wish to enlarge. The Pebble comes with rechargeable batteries, an LCD light, and  a built-in camera. It comes with freeze-frame capabilities, and has 28 viewing modes with adjustable brightness and color contrast. The Pebble is ideal because of its small size and portability.

Primo Environmental Control is a great example of high-tech. This control is designed to assist individuals with limited hand function who otherwise might need the help of a caregiver on a daily basis. The Primo requires professional installation, which is available through the manufacturer, as well as extensive training to use. A dynamic display environmental control helps the user do simple tasks and be more independent. The Primo enables access to Internet, email, electronic media, and desktop applications. Primo provides remote control of your TV, DVD player, telephone, intercom, doors, light switches, and many other household items. The device works off X10 infrared technology, utilizing the existing wiring in your home. You operate the Primo by touching specific cells on the display panel. Infrared waves are sent to a receiver in that appliance. The Primo can be tailored to fit the specific needs of the user. The manufacturer even offers one-day installation and tutoring for a fee.
I have been in the durable medical equipment supply business for 20 years and help people obtain assistive products on a daily basis. Having a spinal cord injury that made me a paraplegic allows me to empathize with my customers. They also seem more receptive and inclined to ask more questions, which enables me to
ascertain which product would best accommodate their needs. Whatever limitations you might face, there is almost certainly an AT product out there that will help you to maintain your quality of life.
Editor’s Note: These AT examples give you a glimpse into the wide variety of assistive technology
devices available. Please note that MS Focus does not endorse any specific products or brands.
Significant Moments in Assistive Technology
• Rehabilitation Act of 1973 extended civil rights to people with disabilities. It allows for reasonable accommodations and nondiscrimination for people with disabilities for job positions or promotions.
• Assistive Technology Act of 1988
provides federal funding to increase access and funding for assistive technology.
This affirms that technology is a valuable tool to improve the lives of Americans with disabilities.