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

Let Me Take You for a Ride!

By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Staff

I went back to work after an extended maternity leave in early April, and soon after, my back problems flared up. After trying PT with no success, I set an appointment with my chiropractor who quickly deduced that my new behavior was long drives–not having a child. I was fine picking up my son and carrying him throughout my leave. It was not until I combined it with the driving associated with my job that the pain kicked in.

A close up of Thelma and Louise along with a shot of them in their convertible driving off into the sunset
Every time I get thinking about driving I think about the movie “Thelma & Louise” and my best friend Cristine–the Louise to my Thelma or vice versa. What a pair! I’m not up for that ending though.

With my chiropractors help, I figured out that the way I was sitting in my car was a problem–hips askew, slouchy, one leg at a bad angle with no support… not a great way to sit for the almost 2-hour commute, especially when you add the tension I hold in my body when dealing with the stress of driving–all those other drivers out there that weave, tailgate, aren’t paying attention.

So, back to some mindful driving for me with awareness of how I’m holding my body, regular stretching at home, and doing some stretching that is safe while driving. I also am implementing some stress relief while driving which for me includes use of my smartphone for funny podcasts, good music, and anti-stress music. In case you haven’t already heard, there are actual songs proven to reduce anxiety so I listen to Marconi Union’s Weightless when I need to.  I’ve even used it to calm my colicky baby with some success. At the very least, it calms me so I can help him when he’s screaming. Another option would be the Lotus Bud (ios) app which sounds a chime randomly throughout the day to remind you to check in for a mindful moment–how is your body feeling? What are you thinking about? Where are you? Another mindful app that is useful that can also do check-ins is Mindfulness Daily (ios). Sometimes I find these mindful apps helpful and other times they annoy me. Its worth giving them a try to see if they are useful to you.

Since I’m talking AT for driving, I’d like to share some other resources and AT for driving:

  • Michele Seybert did a great, extensive webinar for us on vehicle modifications.
  • A woman getting out of her minivan pressing up with the handybar stuck into the doorjamb to aid in pushing to standingThe Handybar is a device which is a sturdy handle with a downward pointing beak that extends about 4 inches. It fits snuggly into the U shaped metal piece in the car
    door frame that the lock engages with. When the door is opened, the device wedges into this closed U shape metal piece, providing a stable, strong handle from which to push yourself to a standing position.
  • a black pancake-shaped cushion sits on a car bucket seatI frequently demonstrate the swivel seat which is a round, gel-filled cushion on a lazy susan bearing that helps people swing their feet in and out of the car (sometimes a plastic grocery bag can do the trick for this too).
  • At a recent presentation, a woman said she keeps long kitchen tongs in her car so she can reach things on the other side of the car or things she has dropped.
  • I use a Bucky every day to help support my lower back which helps my chronic upper back pain. It is a buckwheat filled lumbar pillow.
  • One of our demonstrations sites, Disability Network West Michigan, in Muskegon, recently worked with a person that needed an extended seat belt so she could fit her seatbelt around her body safely. The AT person at Disability Network, was told that extended seatbelts are illegal. They did some checking with the local police and this is not the case. She also learned that you don’t have to purchase the extenders made by the car manufacturer. There are other options online that are much more affordable.
  • My car, a Toyota RAV4 has Bluetooth capacity to let me use my phone hands-free. This will help my upper back pain as well as provide better safety while driving. It also is easier to get into and out of than my old car, a Honda Civic.
  • a close up of a woman's hand holding a handle. The end of the handle has a nut and bolt that runs through a set of keys.Several years ago, my friend Carolyn shared with me that some vehicle manufacturers were selling people expensive key turning aids. People with hand strength disabilities, especially arthritis, have a hard time with the pinching and turning motion required to turn on some cars (some now turn on with a button). There are far more affordable alternatives to the vehicle manufacturer devices called key turners. They give a bigger handle to grip and provide leverage.

What devices help you to drive or ride in a car? What works well for you? What has not worked?

Try it Before You Buy It–Short Term Loans

By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Program Staff

Michigan’s Assistive Technology Program has a short term loan program. This program allows you to borrow equipment, free of charge, from our inventory, after you participate in a demonstration of the device(s).

Device loans are useful if you are considering a purchase and want to “test drive” a particular product, especially devices that are more complicated or devices that you will use in multiple settings. This way, you can see if the device works for you in the places you would use it.

Our short term device loan program is not intended as a loan closet, not a loaner while your equipment is out for repair, nor to meet the need for a device for a temporary disability. However, there is a network of multiple loan closets throughout the State of Michigan who do provide this type of loan.

Currently short term loans are available in the Upper Peninsula, the Lansing Area, and Oakland and Macomb Counties. Reports from people who have used short term loans are 100% positive. Everyone surveyed who has participated in a short term device loan has been highly satisfied or satisfied. Vision devices have been most popular but devices for hearing, computer access, and cognition have also been well-received. These included magnifiers, big button telephones, reminder clocks, Livescribe pens, adapted keyboards and mice, and TV amplifiers.

People have also tried out devices they might use in transitioning out of the nursing home, back to the community.

If you would like to borrow a device for a short period of time to see if it might work for you in your day-to-day life, contact:

Kellie Blackwell, Disability Network Capital Area (Lansing) 877-652-0403

Carolyn Boyle, Superior Alliance for Independent Living (Marquette) 800-379-7245

Traci Comer or Jenell Williams, Disability Network Oakland Macomb (Southfield) 248-359-8960

Sharon Lotoczky, Macomb Library for the Blind/Low Vision (Clinton Twp) 855-203-5274

No Please, Don’t Drop that Mic!

By Jen Gosett, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff

Standing, human shape dropping a microphoneRecently I attended a professional conference in a facility which was equipped with newer technology.  On my registration form, in the accommodations space, I requested in advance that presenters use microphones so that I could hear what they shared.  At the conference, no microphones were used.  Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon experience which I or others have had.  Microphones have not typically been used at many of the conferences/events I’ve attended.  Years ago, a colleague explained that even when a presenter thinks they are “being loud”, the sound of their voice is coming out of only one source and is not at a constant, even volume.  When a typical microphone & sound system is used, the volume of the speaker’s voice is constant/level, and the sound is evenly spread out around the room; making sound more accessible to more people.

Microphone in an auditorium of peopleEven if someone has not specifically requested that the presenter use a microphone, I usually use one when I am in the presenter role.  Hearing loss is much more prevalent than many realize.  The Better Hearing Institute provides these statistics regarding hearing loss:

  • 3 in 10 people over age 60 have hearing loss;
  • 1 in 6 baby boomers (ages 41-59), or 14.6%, have a hearing problem;
  • 1 in 14 Generation Xers (ages 29-40), or 7.4%, already have hearing loss;
  • At least 1.4 million children (18 or younger) have hearing problems;
  • It is estimated that 3 in 1,000 infants are born with serious to profound hearing loss.

In an article by by Gilda Bonanno, 5 Reasons Why Presenters Won’t Use a Microphone, Bonanno states, “Used well, a microphone can demonstrate that you’re a smart and respectful presenter who cares enough about your audience to use every tool at your disposal to ensure they can hear and understand your presentation.”  To me, it just make sense to use a mic!  When in a presenter role, I want to know that more people can hear me, rather than question if the information I’ve spent hours putting together is really being received as I intended it to.
Presenter using a handheld mic in front of a group of people during a presentation

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

A Piece of Candy or a Fish Cake? Up for Interpretation!

A grouping of various, different EmojisBy Jen Gosett, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff

Let’s set the record straight, is it “Emoji” or “Emojis”? Merriam-Webster tweeted that it’s both and defines Emoji or Emojis as, “small images, symbols, or icons used in text fields in electronic communication (as in text messages, e-mail, and social media) to express the emotional attitude of the writer, convey information succinctly, communicate a message playfully without using words, etc.” I really enjoy using Emoji and Emojis! I use them daily in text messages, facebook posts & comments, and sometimes in emails. I feel I’m able to express a little more of my own meaning when I text a sarcastic message to a friend and include a winky face with it.A classic winky emoji; winking and smiling.

I know how I interpret Emojis, but (as with many things) how others interpret them can be very different. National Public Radio’s (NPR) article, Lost In Translation: Study Finds Interpretation Of Emojis Can Vary Widely, states, “Emojis were supposed to be the great equalizer: a language all its own capable of transcending borders and cultural differences. Not so fast, say a group of researchers who found that different people had vastly different interpretations of some popular emojis. For example, the researchers found that when people receive the ‘face with tears of joy’ Emoji face smiling while crying tears of joy emoji some interpret it positively, while others will interpret it negatively.”

Emojis can be a visual representation of something, and by use of screen readers/VoiceOver, they can also be something we digest audibly. Screen readers/VoiceOver may interpret an Emojis differently than we do. For example, the Emoji of an index finger touching thumb to make an open circleemoji represents something that means “excellent” to me, but when I use voice over, my iPhone calls it the “okay hand”. Though ‘excellent’ and ‘okay’ are two, typically positive responses, they can always be interpreted differently based on the sender, receiver, situation, etc.  Side note: many of us type a word and then insert an Emoji that represents that word right after it.  When a screen reader/VoiceOver reads this, it’s read as double.  For example “french friesEmoji for french fries” is read as “french fries french fries”.

When in doubt about what a particular Emoji means, I’ve found that the Emojipedia site can be helpful. Once on the site, users can type in what we’re wondering about. For example, I’ve been using what I thought was an Emoji that represented a piece of candy for a while now. It has a pink swirl on it so I searched for “pink swirl”. The result that was returned informed me that the Emoji I had in mindEmoji fish cake actually represents a “Fish Cake with Swirl: A fishcake (or fish cake) that is used in some Asian meals, known as Narutomaki in Japanese. Each slice includes a spiral design for visual flair.”  A fish cake is definitely different than a piece of candy and its Emoji symbol is still very much up for interpretation!

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!