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MAGAZINE / Mar-Apr 2008 / Where Mobility Needs Meet Technology

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Where Mobility Needs Meet Technology

By Sandra Fusion, Staff Writer 

Where Mobility Needs Meet Technology 

There are approximately 43 million Americans who
experience some form of disability. Many are able to function without adaptive or assistive devices. For those who experience mobility issues, technological advances may be a key to helping them achieve a level of independence not previously available. Approximately 6.8 million Americans use assistive devices to help them with mobility issues (Source: Kaye, H. S., Kang, T. and LaPlante, M.P. (2000). Mobility Device Use in the United States. Disability Statistics Report, (14). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research).

The type of technology can be an advance in computer-assisted technology or it can be as simple as a cane or crutches. The most common form of mobility is the wheelchair. In many cases, individuals use manual wheelchairs, with the rest made up of motorized wheelchairs or scooters. Researchers in the study quoted previously noted that the majority of individuals who use mobility devices are elderly.

There are many other types of technology that can be useful to someone who may be having mobility challenges. Some of these include global positioning systems (GPS) devices that can be worn by the blind or visually impaired, adaptations to automobiles or vans for accessibility, and even home or building modifications.

Where to Begin?

When making assessments of the technology that is available, it is most important to step back and take inventory of the specific mobility challenges that someone may have. This step is one where many different people may be able to offer insight. The patient’s physician and nursing staff can make suggestions of the types of range of motion or physical limitations that are most likely to be involved. In addition, rehabilitation staff may have useful insight since their focus is keeping the individual as mobile as possible to maintain independence. Finally, caregivers – both paid and family members – also have information on a day-to-day basis of the patient’s progress, limitations, and even areas that can be easily overlooked by professionals who do not have moment-to-moment contact with the patient.

Some issues that should be considered include:

  • Are there barriers in the home that can be addressed?
    Furniture, floor plan lay-out, steps or doorways that may not be accessible.
  • How long will mobility be an issue for the patient?
    Depending on the length of time, more extensive changes may need to be addressed.
  • How much help does the individual need? Is it a simple  issue or are extensive changes/renovations needed?
  • Is the condition likely to worsen, making mobility even more challenging in the future (whether immediate or long-term)?

Adding Technology to the Care Plan:

After the family has a clear idea of the types of mobility challenges that they may be facing, it is then appropriate to begin adding technological aspects into the care plan. Some individuals may easily adapt to assistive technology while others may not be able to adjust without caregiver assistance. For example, several manufacturers are marketing wearable devices for the blind or low vision community to use GPS navigation. While the concept is an excellent one to consider, it may also be difficult for the person to adjust. Teaching the caregiver(s) to use the device also is useful in the event that there are problems that need to be addressed that the individual cannot solve.

Research is the key to adding technology. Some assistive technology has been in the development stage for many years, making products more reliable and with more research available on their use. Other products, however, are still in the development stages. With these devices, the patient and caregiver team need to make careful choices. Some of the issues that may be considered when researching products:

  • How much does it cost? Can the cost be offset by insurance?
  • How much support is available for installation and ongoing usage?
  • Can a caregiver or other individual be trained and then, in turn, train others to use the product?
  • Is the training available in the cost of the product or covered by insurance?
  • Will accommodations need to be made to the home and/or patient’s vehicles?
  • Will this product – or combination of products – provide a meaningful, life-enhancing solution to the patient’s mobility concerns?

The last issue on the list is one of quality of life more than of hard dollars and cents, yet it may be the one that is the most important. Technology can do many wonderful things to enhance the quality of life for someone, yet the underlying issue may not need a sophisticated solution. Families need to make not only the financial decisions but the quality of life decisions when deciding if a product is needed to help with mobility.

Work or Play: Where Technology Can Help the Most?

Often times technology is thought of when trying to help an individual move back into the work place or to make the workplace more accessible. There are also social reasons to look at technology as a way to increase someone’s mobility. Social skills and interaction is where many people are able to have a creative outlet and increase their personal network. It may be that mobility is a primary concern when getting someone to and from work – or even at the workplace. It may also be a serious factor in determining how someone is going to receive medical care.

Families should include social outings, sporting events, and other opportunities for entertainment when fashioning technology to meet the mobility issues of the individual. A product that provides both work and health benefits, yet is not responsive to the social needs of an individual, may not provide the full solution.

Home Modifications and Technology:

Technology may be able to play a beneficial role when modifying or renovating the patient’s home due to accessibility or mobility issues. For example, some door companies can provide products that are activated by push panels or remote control to reduce or eliminate the amount of pressure needed to open a door. Remote control venetian blinds can add natural lighting to a room with little effort. Ramps constructed to either the outside or inside of the home can make it easier to move from one room of the house or another and even to make entering and leaving less demanding.

These areas are only a beginning to the ways that technology can enhance someone’s mobility. There are many other areas to be considered, and with the rate of technology advances, more products are in development each day. Even if a solution is not immediately found, continued research on the issue can yield answers or avenues of exploration as advances continue.

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