Life with MS

Opening Doors with Assistive Technology

By MSF Staff
You've probably heard the phrase when one door closes, another opens. This is especially true of assistive technology, which is opening doors that were previously closed to those with disabilities, in infinite and innovative ways. AT options are growing at a tremendous rate, providing long-awaited and much-needed devices for improving and simplifying nearly every area of life. Even a decade ago, the National Council on Disability reported impressive results in the day-to-day living of those utilizing the benefits of AT. Their study showed that 65 percent of working age adults were able to reduce dependence on their families, 58 percent were able to reduce dependence on paid assistance, and nearly 40 percent were able to increase their earnings. In the elderly, AT reduced dependence on others by a promising 80 percent.
AT is classified according to need and disability. Daily living or home management aids offer a variety of self-help devices for bathing, grooming, cooking, eating, dressing and other daily duties. Everything from fine point tweezers with a built-in magnifier to adjustable height sinks and countertops are available. Performing tasks such as meal preparation, cleanup, bathing and grooming may seem insurmountable without assistance. With the current advances in AT, however, these tasks are now within your reach.
Augmentative or alternative communication aids pertain to all electronic or nonelectronic devices that enable expressive, receptive communication for those with speech impairments. Computer access technology offers speech recognition software, various input and output devices, including Braille, modified or alternative keyboards, and more. This type of AT enables many individuals, despite level of impairment or disability, to fully access the computer world.
Environmental control systems empower those with limited mobility to control various appliances. You will find voice-activated remote controls for TV's and CD players, security systems, sound activated lamps, and more. Vocational management includes ramps, lifts, bathroom and work-station modification, training and office equipment. The aim of vocational management AT is to remove or reduce physical obstacles in the workplace.
Prosthetics and orthotics include replacement, substitution or augmentation of a missing or malfunctioning body part. Cervical collars, braces, even pagers that function as reminders for individuals with cognitive impairments, can all be found here. Seating and positioning pertains to all modifying devices for wheelchairs, beds and other seating arrangements. Anything that generates greater stability or support, reduces pressure on the skin surface, or otherwise makes your life more comfortable will be in this category.
Sensory disability AT ranges from magnifiers and self-threading needles to currency recognition devices and beeping liquid level indicators for pouring drinks. Can you believe there is even a talking microwave oven that provides spoken confirmation of functions and cooking times? Mobility aids refer to manual and electric wheelchairs, scooters, walkers, canes and other vehicles for increasing mobility. AT for managing stairs is also reaching heights never before imagined. If you love the beach but are no longer able to stroll along its sandy shore, with AT, it is now possible to roll along, in a specially adapted wheelchair.
Transportation modifications include all adaptive driving aids, such as hand controls, lifts and modified vans. Some of these devices are inexpensive and easy to use, while others can be costly and difficult to install. Many manufacturers offer rental programs, and professional preview programs, which allow members of the medical community to borrow these devices for demonstration, evaluation, and insurance approval.
Become familiar with the products that are available. You can do this over the phone, on the Internet, by email or postal mail. Consult your doctor, physical therapist and/or occupational therapist. A prescription from your primary care physician, as well as a letter of medical necessity from your physical therapist or speech pathologist may be requested. The more documentation you obtain, the better your chances of getting financial assistance.
Funding may be obtained through private insurance companies, Medicare, Medicaid, vocational rehabilitation facilities, the Veteran's Administration, school systems, clinics, hospitals, nonprofit organizations, and even grant and trust funds.
So, don't close the door on opportunity. Open it wide and consider your options with assistive technology. Call Derrick Lee, MSF's AT Coordinator at 888-673-6287 for more information.
(Last reviewed 7/2009)