Want to Walk and Roll? Prepare for a Search

“You are in a competitive bid area” we were told as we looked for a vendor who would accept Medicare for a family member who needs a walker. (The Medicare competitive bid program began a six-month phase-in period across the country, including rural areas, on January 1, 2016.) We found the one vendor in the area, however, they don’t have the type of walker the doctor prescribed (a 4-wheel – “Rollator” walker). They might be getting some in, but when was not clear.

Unfortunately, vendors have left this rural area. There’s no one, we were told, who sells or repairs motorized scooters, for example, within 100 miles. We suspect competitive bidding influenced this lack of local resources. (See this advocacy article from the American Association for Home Care.)

blue walker in a kitchen with a seat and larger wheelsSo one option was to check on loan closets in the area. We also checked the ATXchange.org, and within a day or two a nice looking Hugo Rollator Walker was posted, however, it’s too far away to be practical.  The family member really wants to try to get a new walker anyway, as they are concerned about wear and tear on a used device.  Strike three on the search!

The next call was to the local Disability Network, the Superior Alliance for Independent Living, to talk with Carolyn Boyle.  She was able to provide the name of a technician at a vendor along with the person’s phone number and email address. Unfortunately, they are over 100 miles away, but we probably need to follow-up with this lead and make the trip.

While searching, I also found some helpful resources about how to fit a walker.

Until we can do more research and maybe schedule a trip, we installed a railing in the hallway from the bedroom to the bathroom, which will help during the night and in the morning, before muscles warm-up and become a bit more flexible. I’m working on at least a temporary solution, if the family member will agree and a device can be found at the local loan closet.

Are you in a rural area? Have you looked for durable medical equipment in the past couple years? Thanks for sharing your experience!

There’s an App for That!

a ball covered in app icons

Looking for ideas for apps for that new tablet or phone? There are so many apps and so little time. Where do you start? Here are some ideas, though certainly not everything that could help. I hope it will get you started at least.

What is you are trying to do?

Begin with the end in mind.  For example:

  • Are you looking for a way to communicate? If so what? To whom?
  • Do you want to remember something? Do you need a reminder only in certain locations? Do you need pictures or photos or will text be enough?

How do You Your Access Your Device?

Do you need audio such as Voiceover or TalkBack options? Do you use switches? Would a stylus help? You’ll need to find apps that work with the way you use your tablet or other device.

Built-in Access Features

First, ask if you are using the built-in access features of your device. These are there, free and can really be helpful!

Some ideas for alternative access:Extension stylus on finger from ShapeDad

How Much Can You Spend?

In an ideal world, this wouldn’t matter, but we all have limits. Either you have some funding or need to find some. Check MAPT’s AT Funding Strategy for ideas on funding more expensive apps. Also look for apps that let you try them before plunging in. Make sure you know if an app requires in- app purchases to be fully functional or if it requires yearly subscriptions.

Where Can I Research Apps?

Person's hands on an iPadDirectories

I am sure there are many other considerations, directories, adaptions and tips. I hope this helps you in your search! We would love to hear your thoughts on this!

Creative Adaptations Spark Innovation

person with cell held to face with thought bubble of a lightbulbNecessity is the mother of invention” an English-language proverb, is certainly true when it comes to technological innovation. People who have disabilities are often the spark as they have the necessity or need to be able to do something and this has led to innovative solutions. Many of these innovative solutions have become technology that everyone now takes for granted.

Historical Tech

The history of technological innovation is full of examples of innovation which started with an adaptation for someone with a disability. Here are just a few examples:

  • Alexander holding device to his earDo you use a telephone? The old landline phones became commonplace a long time ago. Did you know that Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in an attempt to better communicate with his wife who was hard of hearing?
  • Do you listen to audiobooks? Thomas Edison saw his invention of the phonograph as a way to open the printed world to the blind by recording book readings.

Some More Recent Tech

Does your car talk to you? “Your door is ajar?” for example. I was looking up a device that had been in the AT inventory for many years. The device was designed to be used by people who were blind by a company called Parrot. After a lot of searching, I found out this company was now making parts for the automotive industry.

At an AT National meeting almost 10 years ago, I was sitting talking with a colleague keyboard on phone with trail from w to K following someones fingerfrom the Alaska AT program after most of the group had left for the day. A man came up and introduced himself. He was really excited to show us an invention he had worked on: “Swipe”. He pulled out his phone and showed us how fast he could enter text on the keyboard. The company’s background was in working on argumentative communication for people who have disabilities.  He talked about the time and effort they’d spent trying to interest mainstream companies in his product and was so excited he had a productive meeting. Within the next couple years, I got an Android based phone which included Swipe!

There are so many examples! For more read this article “How tech for the disabled is going mainstream.

“Companies could look at designing for accessibility as a sales opportunity. Most features that are accessible for the disabled have great value to everybody,” says Donald A. Norman, a former Apple vice-president for advanced technology who heads a joint business and engineering program at Northwestern University.

Sometimes when we talk about Assistive Technology (AT), people think AT is “special” and just for people who have disabilities, and has nothing to do with them.  I’ve always said that for someone without a disability, technology may make things easier or faster, but for someone with a disability it can make things possible and in many cases everyone has benefited!

What technology do you use or know of that was originally invented for someone with a disability?

Ditto – A Bluetooth Vibrating Cell Phone Signaler and Alarm Clip

Guest Blogger: Liz Kobylak, Hearing Technology Resource Specialist

The box with Ditto device "wear it anywhere Never needs charging"

The exhibit hall at the 2016 national convention of Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) convention was filled with interesting displays of products that can benefit people who have hearing loss. One nifty de-vice that caught my eye was the “ditto”, a battery operated Bluetooth vibrating cell phone signaler, from a company named “Simple Matters”. The easy-on-the-wallet price ($40) made it a hit. Ditto is designed to vibrate when one receives an important cell call, text or e-mail message… it is clipped to clothing or carried in a pocket. Ditto can also be used as a timer or wake up alarm.
The Ditto box comes with the following:

    • Ditto
    • Wristband
    • Clip
    • Battery (CR1632)

After inserting the battery and attaching the clip, the Ditto is paired via Bluetooth with your cellphone (iOS or Android) using the free Ditto app… and you are ready to go. The default settings are: 1 vibration for an email, 2 vibrations for a text, and 3 vibrations for a phone call. The app allows the user to customize settings as desired/needed: to select favorite contacts and only be alerted to those incoming messages or to be alerted to a calendar event. The vibrations can be changed or turned off via the app. The Ditto can also be used as a timer or alert to third party apps such as Facebook.

As a person with severe to profound hearing loss, I often do not hear the alerts my Android phone emits. This happens frequently when the phone is inside my purse or I am in a noisy environment. Not that I want to be alerted to every single incoming message, but it is nice to stop checking the phone dozens of times for an ex-pected important message from specific people. I like that the signal is unobtrusive to those around me. Additionally, when travelling, I have been hauling around my beloved bedside alarm clock with the bed shaking feature. However, I have recently noticed that many hotels are streamlining the appearance of their guest rooms with fewer available outlets near the bedside. The “charging station” is usually not close enough for me to use my special clock. The wristband that comes with the Ditto allows for gentle vibration on the wrist. It is not exactly fashion forward but gets the job done.

The manufacturer states that the Ditto can be programmed as a tether device to help those people who tend to leave their phones behind in restaurants, etc. The battery will last 3-6 months, depending on the amount of use and the app promises to alert me when battery life is running low, which I find reassuring. The device is also waterproof and can be worn while swimming or showering. The Ditto comes with a 12 month warranty.
This is a simple device that is very easy to use. To see how the Ditto works for yourself, visit the Simple Matters website.

Finding Grab Bars

4 different color grab bars with arm and hand grasping one

By Kathryn Wyeth, MATP Team Leader

In my last post, “Simple Things”, I wrote about finding a toilet paper holder that works as assistive technology. I also mentioned that we put in plywood behind all the walls so we can securely place grab bars now and in the future.

The search for grab bars wasn’t as easy as I optimistically thought it would be.  I was hoping that with the numbers of baby boomers aging and the increase in the numbers of people who stay in their homes, it would be easier to find attractive, color coordinating, affordable, non-medical grab bar options. Maybe the market is better now than in the past, but I think there is room for improvement!

Where to place grab bars is an individual decision. If you are not sure, there are professionals, such as Aging in Place Specialists and Occupational Therapists who can help you. Various places have developed guidelines on placement of grab bars in bathrooms. I found this: “Evaluation of Optimal Bath Grab Bar Placement for Seniors” which may give you some ideas. I also found this pdf document on reinforcing walls for grab bars.

For our shower and by the toilet we found curved grab bars we think will work for us. We like the texture – a vinyl which they claim is “warm to the touch” and it came in colors. We chose biscuit to match the roll-shower base. In the shower, we installed it so it can be a support either standing up or perhaps someday, from a chair or bench. We found a matching straight 30” bar to put on the wall of the shower opposite the shower head. We also added this attractive grab bar solution from Moen. It looks like a nice curved shelf and can function that way to. Plus is was fairly affordable and available off the shelf.

curved grab bar   grab bar with a shelf

My dad used well-sanded pine railings and railing hardware to add a bar to the wall of his bathroom by the toilet. He prefers the look of the wood and it was a very affordable solution for them. There are many other options for grab bars available so you should be able to find solutions which work for you.

I hope the options will continue to grow, diversify, become more colorful and fun and come down more in price! Time will tell if we chose correctly and we are happy we’ve reinforced the walls so we can make changes as we change!

Some Additional Resources

Google Home: Useful Services

4 colorful circles with speech bubble "Hi, how can I help"

Virtual Assistants and home devices are evolving rapidly. Alexa had a sizeable jump on the market and is doing very well with a huge number of “Alexa Skills”. But Google Home also has capabilities that can be of use to people with disabilities and you don’t have to enable them as you do with Alexa. All you have to do is say, “Hey Google, Talk to (Name of Service) or Control (Name of Service)”. The correct command for use is directly below the name of the service

Everything is voice activated, so potentially any service could be useful to our community. The ones I describe below are a sample.

There are a lot of services and you can review them by opening the Home App on your smartphone, tapping the menu in the upper left-hand corner of the app’s home page, and tapping More settings. Services is down the list.

  • CareGeneral: task management and support service specifically designed for home-based care delivery
  • Autovoice: You can run customized voice commands using Tasker with this android app
  • Control Nightingale: Nightingale is the first smart home sleep system designed to ensure better and more restful sleep.
  • Dominos Pizza Order: You can order and track your pizza’s life journey when you have that special hunger
  • Harmony by Logitech: Use Harmony to control your TV with voice, channel changing, volume, play and pause, etc.
  • World Air Quality Index:  How bad is the air around me?

Many services such as information about public transportation is specific to a location, but you might want to try the service, Next Transit to see if there is something around your location.

Obviously, more services will be developed, For more information about the Services available through Google Home, see the Google Home Help page for 3rd party services and apps.There is also a continuously update list of services

Simple Things

by Kathryn Wyeth

Post-it note

Sometimes it is the small things that really can make a difference. There were so many decisions to make in designing our addition and the bathroom was one of the hardest rooms to figure out. Part of the problem was designing for future, unknown needs as we want this house to be where we live as we age.  Yes, I never want to have to leave!

We realized we can’t possibly anticipate every need so did the best we could.  For example, we have 5 feet plus of turning radius and put in plywood behind the drywall so we can put grab bars anywhere we might need them in the future. We installed a comfort height toilet and a roll-in shower with a handheld option for the shower head. We have grab bars that work to meet my husband’s current needs.

toilet paper holder with cardboard inner tube on it However, one option I found was only about $20 (on sale!) and makes just a nice difference every day. It’s the toilet paper holder. Most holders we’ve had in the past were the spring-loaded type. With limited fine motor control in his hands, my husband found these nearly impossible to take on and off. So I’d go in to find an empty roll. Not good.cat standing up tearing toliet paper on with other cat standing on a pile of paper on the floor

We also tried the type of holder which is simply open on one end. That worked, but the roll would get easily knocked off onto the floor and become a cat toy.

After looking and many different options, I found the perfect holder. The bar that goes through the roll pivots up so you can just drop the roll on it, push it back down and ta da, it’s done. No more empty cardboard tubes!

We purchased this one from Kohler, on sale, despite some bad reviews. We’ve been very happy with it.toilet paper holder with motion indicating bar pivots up

Since then also found one from Moen which functions the same way.

person pivoting up the bar on a toilet paper holder

Genius. Sometimes it the simplest things that make me happy!