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!

Top 5 AT Items for Dressing

By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Staff

While I have chronic back pain and other hidden disabilities, I didn’t have a need for AT for dressing until I was very pregnant. Now, I have a new appreciation for it! I’m interested to hear what others use for dressing, but in the meantime, I’ve compiled this list from my personal experience and my work advocating for supports for community living.

  • Elastic Shoelaces or slip on shoes plus long handled shoehorn: Elastic shoelaces have been a revelation to some people I’ve met—they turn tied shoes into slip on shoes. Easily and cheaply obtained, they are a great piece of AT. Pair them with a long handled shoehorn, and getting shoes on in the morning just gets easier.
  • Dressing Stick: Dressing sticks tend to be 18-24 inches long with one side with a “c” hook on it for pulling zippers and shoelaces and the other end has a puller/pusher hook on it for putting on shirts and pants/skirts or pushing down skirts/pants and socks. It is especially helpful when you have use of one arm or have limited arm movement or trouble reaching or bending.
  • Sock Aid: Another item beneficial when reaching or bending is a barrier—I used my sock aid often in my third trimester. The one I used has a terry cloth side to help grip the sock and hold it in place until you get it on your foot. I’ve seen videos featuring the Sock Slider on Facebook and it, too looks promising—like the sock aid I used but no need to pull on handles, it sits on the floor with the sock opened by a plastic tube for you to slip your foot through and into your sock.
  • Doff N Donner: A lot of people have shared with me the need for something to help them get compression stockings on. The Doff N Donner is a newer product designed to help with this taxing task. Shaped like a very large, ribbed, rubber cuff for a sweatshirt, this product can be used with an accessory called a cone (the cone really just looks like a mini Washington Monument to me with a suction cup base) to load the stocking on the cuff. You can also use a baseball bat or your arm to load the stocking on the cuff. According to the manufacturers website, people can use the Doff N’ Donner themselves or with the help of an assistant. It can be used with a sock aid to reach your foot with practice as well.

It’s hard to describe the action needed to make the Doff N’ Donner work but there are great videos on the manufacturer website and a couple on YouTube. There is even one showing how the Doff N’ Donner can be used to put stockings over bandages.

We have these devices available to try through our AT demonstration kits throughout the state so you can see and try them and decide if they work for you. Our website lists locations for these kits.

  • Adaptable Clothing: So… in looking for resources for adaptive clothing, all of the websites I came across were pretty ableist and most were geared toward older adults with all the models on the website being older white men and women. Many used outdated language like “handicapped” and some just looked like medical gowns and hospital gear. If you have some more inclusive adaptive clothing resources to share, please do! Adaptive clothing includes items like shirts with back snaps so that you don’t have to raise your arms to put them on or put them over your head and ponchos that cover wheelchairs for warmth instead of the hassle of a coat. It also includes easy on and off items, and even shoes that are adaptable for swelling. In my own life, I’ve found that more universally designed clothes helped a lot. I had swelling and back pain—and a growing stomach—during pregnancy so found the tall and curvy leggings from Lularoe and yoga pants with a fold down waist from Target were easy to get on and worked really well. I could not get maternity pants to stay up. Tunic tops were also a necessity with changes in my body size. I found a pair mesh clogs that kept my swelling feet cooler and were not tight to begin with. I also wore a lot of dresses that were breathable cotton and had ruching on the sides that allowed for expansion.

What devices or clothing hacks have you devised to help with dressing?

Assistive Technology: Not a Replacement for Social Responsibility

SignAloud Gloves - black gloves with micro processors on the wrists

One of the most exciting parts of working for the Michigan Assistive Technology Program is that it puts me in social media circles where I am more likely to see the latest prototypes of equipment and devices.  It seems like I see some sort of device, app, or equipment that amazes
m
e every day,  Just this week, I came across, gloves that turn sign language into speech, an electric mountain biking handcycle,  and a wheelchair accessible motorcycle.  The potential of assistive technology is limitless, and the ingenuity of people who develop new technologies keeps me in a constant state of awe.

Yet, I keep thinking back to a conversation I had several days ago,  I was talking with a woman who asked about my career,  When I told her I worked with assistive technology and explained what that was, she immediately became very excited, and recalled a video she saw online of a stair-climbing wheelchair.  “Isn’t it great?”  she exclaimed, “Pretty soon we won’t even need to build ramps!”

A power wheelchair ascending stairsNo.  Not great, for several reasons.  First, and most obviously, Many of these innovations that we are seeing are prototypes,  They may or may not ever become available on the mainstream market.  If they do become available on the market, it is most likely that only the most affluent, who are able to pay out of pocket, will be able to obtain them.  Most assistive technology tends to be low cost/lower tech and paid for by insurance,  People with disabilities and advocates are fighting for coverage of even the most basic equipment (durable medical equipment is an excellent example), let alone the latest cutting edge designs.

Secondly, the argument that stair climbing wheelchairs would negate the need for ramps in based the medical model of disability.  It’s saying to people with disabilities that their disabilities are the “problem”, and puts the responsibility on them to negotiate a world that is not accessible to them.  It puts the social responsibility of access as a civil right on technology and not on society, where it should be.  As a person with a disability, I am given the message that I am the problem, and that being afforded accommodations is “special” or “extra” in a thousand different ways every day.  In reality, my disability is a gift, not a problem.  The problem lies with society and the idea that we need to be fixed or in some way made better by technology instead of being granted the same access (physical and otherwise) as everyone else.

Finally, sometimes, the latest and greatest technology cannot and should not take the place of other methods or technology.  For example, many people now argue that there is no longer a need for people who are blind to learn Braille because screen readers and other auditory technologies are available.  However, by relying solely on auditory technology, a person may be missing out on important literacy skills.  There are also places where Braille may be the only way to obtain necessary information, such as locations and orientation within buildings.  It is also important to consider that communication via Braille and American Sign Language are very important aspects of disability (Blind, Deaf) community and culture.

Innovations in assistive technology are a wonderful, exciting thing.  I am certainly not arguing that progress and development should stop.  However, technology should not take the place of the social responsibility we have to provide access and accommodations to all – it is a civil right.  We also must be mindful that these cutting edge technologies may not be available or appropriate for everyone, and that existing technology and methods often play an important role in the disability community, pride, and culture.

Modify Your Home and Age in Place

By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Program StaffThe outline of a home with the words Home Sweet Home inside it

A study, Community Aging in Place, Advancing Better Living for Elders (CAPABLE), funded by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, showed that home modifications and access to AT (assistive technology), helped older adults age in place. The study results indicate 75% of participants were able to perform more activities of daily living than before they entered the study and symptoms of depression also improved.

The older adults who participated were paired with a team including an occupational therapist, nurse, and handyman who worked with them over a period of five months. Together, the team helped choose and install AT and make home repairs to improve safety and access. The budget for the AT, repairs, and handyman work was $1300.

Everyone in the study was on both Medicare and Medicaid and had barriers to completing activities of daily living including bathing, dressing, using the toilet, and walking across a small room.

A key aspect of the program was supporting the older adults to set their own goals instead of the professional team setting the goals for them. After the study was completed, participants are continuing to contact the researchers and share goals they are setting and achieving. This important work illuminating the benefits of AT and home modifications is expanding. One group is replicating the program in Michigan through Michigan State University—calling it MiCAPABLE and working with people who participate in the MiChoice Medicaid Waiver program in the state. We are always excited to see increased access to AT!

What programs and services have you accessed to improve your ability to age in place? Were they medical-model driven, or did you steer your goals? What kind of AT or home modifications improved your life?

Can You Hear Me Now? What about now? … Good!

By Jen Gosett, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff

Sound waves projecting into an earHearing loss is something that’s common in my family.  Since my late 20’s, I’ve noticed a decline in my hearing.  A concern in the back of my mind is that I will grow older and have to wear large, ill-fitting, analog hearing aids that don’t seem to work how I need them to; that was my Grama Ann’s experience and frustration with her own hearing aids.  As a child I remember many crowded family gatherings where I could hear Grama Ann’s hearing aids whistling shrilly until she manually turned them down or off all together.

Technology is ever evolving and I feel heartened that assistive tech for better/amplified/more intuitive hearing devices has improved over the years; namely by way of digital (DSP, or digital signal processor) hearing aids (versus the analog hearing aids my Grandmother used).

Ear surrounded by a variety of hearing aids
Both analog and digital hearing aids are used today, though analog are becoming a little less common, and digital hearing aids are becoming a more popular choice.  Analog and digital hearing aids both have similar components. Both types pick up sound using a microphone and use circuitry to amplify sound.  Analog hearing aids work by making continuous sound waves louder, amplify all sounds (speech and noise).  [DSP hearing aids] convert sound waves to digital signals, producing an exact duplication of each sound, instead of just amplifying it. Computer chips are used to analyze speech and other sounds, allowing for more complex processing of sounds during amplification.”  This text is from the HUH?!? Help U Hear Center.  

Woman wearing a futuristic-looking hearing aid

With the ways that Google Glass and Bluetooth technology work today, I can’t even imagine the possibilities of hearing aids of the future!  By learning about what’s out there today and thinking about what’s in store for the near future, I feel more comfortable planning for my own hearing supports.

Thanks for reading!

We are Back, Sort of…

Back in October 2016, our previous blog suddenly disappeared. We had over 3 years of regular posts on a wide variety of Assistive Technology-related topics. Despite having back-ups of all the posts and of the site, we have been unable to successfully recover the site or the articles.  If anyone can help, please let us know!

So for now, we’ve moved to this format. We’ll be updating the format of the site to maximize accessibility. Let us know as we go of any specific issues. We are working on it! The tools are a bit different so we have a bit of a learning curve to climb up.

We’ve missed all of you and have lot’s to say and share. We’ve been saving up ideas for posts! Stay tuned!