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
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
- Furniture, floor plan lay-out, steps or
doorways that may not be accessible.
- How long will mobility be an issue for the
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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
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
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