Monthly Archives: February 2014

Smart AT Shopping, Part 3: Home Modifications


By MATP Staff Member Aimee Sterk

home under construction, man in wheelchair talking with man holding a 2x2When looking for someone to hire to do home modifications there are several key things to consider as you make the best choice for yourself. Home modifications are sometimes tricky. Some builders who have never done them before think they are no different than any other remodel job. This is just not the case. Just like you would not want your dentist to learn how to fill a cavity on you, it is easier, less stressful, and smoother to work with a builder that has experience in the home modifications. Everyone has to learn sometime, but they don’t have to learn on you.

We at Michigan Disability Rights Coalition/Michigan Assistive Technology Program and our partners around the state have seen dozens of ramps that were dangerously installed—very improperly—by well-meaning builders, neighbors and friends. It is a complicated process to correctly install chair lifts, ceiling lifts and other significant structural adjustments. Even grab bars are easily installed the wrong way—giving way when you need them. Then there are scammers on top of the well-meaning but ill-informed people.

The remodeling world is full of sharks who are especially like to prey on older adults and people with disabilities they think they can swindle.  News coverage of people who gave a down payment for remodeling or roof work only to have the “builder” never return are far too common and there is an entire television show just about people who have been scammed by builders and left with shoddy work or worse, dangerous situations.

This is not meant to scare you—only to help you prepare to be your own best self-advocate as you look to remodel your home to work better for you.

The Federal Trade Commission and HGTV have excellent articles on hiring a remodeler and the importance of having a contract in writing, and what that contract should include. Take a look at their recommended steps and add them to the Smart Shopper tips on our website.  Together these two articles provide an excellent starting point. Keep in mind a couple of other key factors:

  1. Contact your local Center for Independent Living and Area Agency on Aging. Both of these organizations are connected to reputable builders in their area. Often, the Area Agency on Aging or Home and Community-Based Waiver Agency contracts with local builders themselves to help people stay in their own homes. Centers for Independent Living help people mOlder 2 story home with wrap around rampove back to the community after nursing home stays. These organizations will have an idea of who is good and who doesn’t do good work in your area.
  2. Get multiple bids in writing.
  3.  Find out standard down payments in your area—definitely don’t pay the entire bill up front.  In California, the most you should pay for a down payment is 10%–to help protect from scam artists.
  4. Actually talk to references the re-modeler provides for work similar to what you are considering.
  5. Work with licensed builders—ask to see a copy of their license. The City of Niles has compiled a great list of Warning Signs a Contractor is unlicensed.
  6. Make sure the contractor is insured.
  7. Consider working with builders who have certification as Aging in Place Specialists.
  8. Only work with builders who are willing to explain things to you in a way you understand and treat you with respect. If they aren’t respectful when they are interviewing to do work for you, it isn’t going to get any better when you hire them.
  9. If a contractor bids on your project and their price is way below the other bids—be very wary—this is likely a scam. You get what you pay for.
  10. Try to get referrals from other people with disabilities in your area—word of mouth is a great way to learn about good, reliable builders in your community who know how to do home modifications. Your best bet is to work with someone who is local and has a good reputation with people you talk to.
  11. Good contractors are often very busy. If someone can do the work right away—this may also be a sign that they are not so good. Consider the additional recommendations on How to Shop for a Contractor.
  12. Make sure the contractor gets a building permit in their name—so they are liable for the work being done, not you.
  13. Trust your gut—if you are feeling uneasy, there is a reason, look for someone else.

Do you have tips or experiences to share?



Smart AT Shopping (Part 2): Vendor and Shopping Tips


By MATP Staff Member, Aimee Sterk

In Part 1, we talked about why you should be cautious when shopping for Assistive Technology. Below, we offer some tips on how to be smart shopper and get what you need!

How can you tell if your vendor is a good vendor?

      • Do they ask you about your disability, what you need to be able to do, what you can do, what you can’t do? Good vendors do extensive work getting to know you and your situation, the how, why and where of using your device. If they immediately jump to telling you what they can do without looking at you/your situation, this is a red flag.A red stop sign
      • Do they have a reputation and education and background in what they are doing? Good vendors have relationships with area service providers and have spent years studying or practicing what they do. Your local center for independent living may have vendors they know do good work in your community.
      • Good vendors are focused on meeting your need before they focus on what they have as a product they can sell you. Good vendors want to make sure what they have will work for you. Good vendors will tell you if there is something else on the market that will work for you that is free or cheaper.
      • Good vendors are transparent about what they can and cannot do and about the costs involved and if they can work with your funding source.
      • Good vendors have opportunities for you to try devices before you purchase them in most cases. Devices should be user-friendly with clear and simple ways to operate them. More complex devices should come with plenty of support for you to learn to use them in a way that works for you.
      • Good vendors also provide deliver, fitting, training and support for the products they sell/the improvements they make.
      • Good vendors do not try to convince you to use devices you think aren’t working or don’t fit.

Smart Shopper Tips

    • Shop local when possible — if your vendor has a business Laptop open with yellow ribbon around screen with "Caution" Laptop open with yellow ribbon around screen with “Caution”storefront in the community, the chances that you get good service and follow up increase dramatically. Some products are not available locally. Just like buying a car from far away online, you have to be extra diligent in these cases.
    • Asking other people with disabilities and other professionals about the equipment and service providers and vendors that have worked for them is a good way of finding out about options—just like you might ask around about people’s experience with a particular brand of car, its service record and reliability. You may also want to do an internet search for customer reviews.
    • Trust your gut — if you think the person selling you the device is trying to pull something over on you, stop the process. Don’t work with someone you don’t trust. Kick the tires, take the equipment for a test drive, and don’t fall for hard-driving sales techniques.
    • Find out about warranties, technical support numbers and access to service providers.
    • Have high expectations when you buy AT. Expect that vendors will be transparent; make referrals when their equipment won’t meet you needs; use tools and measurements and interview you; provide delivery and set up and training; provide maintenance and repair; and keep you up-to-date about eligibility for an equipment update. When you set these expectations, you are in the driver’s seat, making decisions on equipment that will work for you.
This entry was posted in Assessment/Evaluation, AT, Funding, Resources and tagged Smart Shop on by .

Smart AT Shopping: Part 1


shopping cart

By MATP Staff Member Aimee Sterk

As you search for assistive technology that works for you, it might be helpful to think of it like the process you would use to buy a car (thanks to our colleagues in Wisconsin for this analogy). When you look for a car, different people have different key features they want. Some go for safety, some go for sleek looks and maneuverability, some are looking at fuel economy, my brother who is 6’7” first checks to make sure he can actually fit in and drive the car, others go simply looking for something that fits their budget.

Assistive technology is the same way—different people are looking for different features, with the added complication of funding sources on top. Another way that purchasing assistive technology is like buying a car is the “used car salesperson” approach that some vendors take. There are good and bad car salespeople and good and bad AT vendors. A bad car salesperson can get you in a car that might break down as soon as you drive off the lot. A bad AT vendor can get you a device you don’t need or a device that doesn’t fit you and actually causes you physical harm due to the lack of fit.

Our colleagues have found that a person that would never put up with a broken television from the store down the street might get by with a broken piece of AT or a poorly installed home modification. We need the tools we use to be good consumers of other products in our purchase and use of AT.  How do you distinguish between good AT vendors and bad AT vendors?  What can you do maximize your satisfaction with AT products and services?  Stay turned for part two of this blog series later this week.

This entry was posted in Resources and tagged Consumer, Shopping, Smart Shop, Tips, Vendor on by .

Wow, Milestone Commercials!


Snowy Mountian with " 2014" and Olympic rings Last night during the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympic Games I witnessed a milestone in recognition of people with disabilities. Not in the ceremony itself, but in the commercials which featured six different ads that included shots of people with disabilities using adaptive equipment. Companies running these ads included:

  1. Coca-Cola
  2. Chevy
  3. CITI
  4. AT&T
  5. BP
  6. Microsoft 

Did I miss any? Let me know! (The ad from Microsoft was previously shown, having first aired on Super Bowl Sunday.)

I’ll never be an Olympic athlete, or a Paralympic athlete, but seeing Man on a sled on ice rink wearing hockey gearthe competitions does make me want to go out and play in the snow! We certainly have enough of the white stuff this year and it would be nice to enjoy it instead of cursing it, right? If for nothing else than this quote from Shaun White: “Cement doesn’t give as much as snow.”

How about you? Do you want to learn more? This Thursday MATP is offering a webinar: “Embracing the Winter Wonderland: AT for your Outdoor Sports Adventures”. Registration ended last Friday, but if you email me at , I can send you instructions for joining us!

This entry was posted in Recreation and tagged Olympics, Paralympics, Sochi, Winter on by .