Archive for the 'Everyday Gear' Category

iPad: An Assistive Device for a New Age?

Along with all the marketing hype and social hysteria about Apple’s new iPad there have been some murmurings about what else it might be — “else” being “more than a cute toy”  or “more than a huge iPod or big  iPhone”.

Rob, of Fighting Monsters With Rubber Swords, has a young daughter who is about to experience the new challenges of middle school.  Schuyler communicates using an assistive  device, and  Rob writes about how the über-cool iPad may help to bridge a portion of the gap between Schuyler and her peers — a gap which he, like many similar parents, sees widening as time goes on.

The social benefits of an assistive device that looks like something anyone would want aren’t to be minimized, but I was also intrigued by a post written by Asthma Mom (via Rob’s twitterfeed), who imagines how an iPad might be used as a physician’s aid:

Now picture the pediatrician or ER doctor whipping out an iPad, showing you a video of a bronchospasm-induced coughing fit, and saying, “Does your kid ever sound/look like this? Because this is asthma.”

Or imagine if your pediatrician could play recordings from the R.A.L.E. Repository of Lung Sounds, instantly and right there in the examining room, so you can understand exactly what kind of respiratory symptoms to listen for at home.

Yes, you could leave the ER, and check out the videos and sounds on your home computer (and probably will, if you’re sent home with links, or search yourself).  But the potential of the iPad, or future devices like it, exists in its hand-held nature, and its bright, readable screen.

Patient education is a critical component of effective medical management, and one that is increasingly poorly implemented, if it’s addressed at all.  Sending patients home with scantily, or badly, written brochures is not really an optimal approach.  Being able to access visual and audio aids in partnership with a medical educator is a whole different story.

Sharing information on a laptop is theoretically possible, but isn’t practical in most medical settings; they’re too cumbersome and too awkward to hand off from one person to another.  The monitor your doctor increasingly spends his or her time staring into during your office visit isn’t any more sharing-friendly, anchored as it is on a desk or table in front of the doctor.

The iPad changes all that; multiple viewers  can see the screen as easily as a shared piece of paper, and, if a closer look is needed, it can be handed back and forth as easily as a trade paperback.  (Maybe more easily, as there are no pages to manage.)

It will be interesting to see how utilization of the iPad (and its eventual imitators) plays out; those of us with special interests of all sorts might want to keep a close eye on developments.


Segway Scooter as an Assistive Device

A group called DRAFT (Disabililty Rights Advocates for Technology) distributes Segway scooters through its Segs4Vets program, matching Segways with veterans with a wide variety of disabilities. Segway scooters have a very small ‘footprint’, with a turning radius that is much smaller than that of a power chair. For most users they represent a less-fatiguing, more versatile means of ‘walking’ — as well as one that accommodates a wide variety of terrain.

Best of all, say users, a Segway, unlike a wheelchair, allows face-to-face interaction.

Sounds like a great, feel-good post doesn’t it? Maybe — but it turns out that the obstacles these vets face aren’t the ones you’d expect. Because Segways go much faster than a power chair and appear to represent a greater threat to pedestrians, many cities (liberal, people-loving San Francisco, among them) have banned them. So have other venues: Disney World and at least one Barnes and Noble store in Arizona, among them.

Disney’s argument seems to be that the scooters haven’t been certified as ADA assistive devices; it’s unclear how retailer objections will play out. A Segway disability-use permit — like the parking placards issued by every state — would seem to be a simple, logical solution to the question of identifying scooter drivers with a disability, but hey, I’m only thinking logically here. While the world sorts this out, riders might want to pack a doctor’s note and see if some courteous information exchange can get them to that latte.

Segways aren’s for everyone with a disability. Though they can be modified in various ways, their use depends on considerable motor skills, along with a dose of good judgment. (Speed is increased or decreased by leaning forward or back; forgetting this can have serious consequences.) Those who use them particularly cite the advantages of being able to travel upright for longer periods of time, and the ease of getting where power chairs just don’t like to go. There’s a certain cool factor, too. Unlike a power chair, they’re likely to inspire some admiring glances; this assistive device is coveted by people without disabilities, as well.

Segway image from Flickr

Strain-Relieving Handle for Rollling Suitcases and Bags

If you’re attempting to fly with American Airlines this week, there’s probably nothing in the world that can make the experience better. In the future, though, if you find yourself traversing airports with bags in tow, this device might be your best companion, particularly if you have wrist or hand pain that is aggravated by the handles on rolling bags.

There are quite a few similar handles available, but this is the one I use. Here’s why: the grabber rotates 360 degrees. That means that I can always keep my hand where it’s most comfortable; it makes pulling my bags easy and pain-free.

Someone was really thinking when the attachment was designed, too: the hook and loop fasteners are on both sides of the bar that attaches to your bag handle. That keeps the TravelTow handle firmly in place, but allow you to rotate where you want it.

I use mine nearly everyday; one is attached to my rolling shopping basket. It works perfectly on my rolling computer case, too, as well as on suitcases.

TravelTow Handle Adapter by Lewis N. Clark; available at travel gear stores and various places online.

Wheelchair Canopy for Sun or Rain

shade.jpgSpring rain is falling with a vengeance in many parts of the country, and soon we’ll be contending with the sun of summer. If you use a scooter or wheelchair outdoors frequently, you may be interested in these canopies sold by Diestco. There are three models: one that’s all solid fabric; one that has mesh on the sides and rear; and a third one, just like the second, but with drop-down plastic curtains. (Each available in five colors, for the fashionistas among us.)

Initial installation takes about 20 minutes, according to the website. Mounting methods for several common wheelchair styles are shown, but if your scooter or chair differs, Diestco invites you to describe your needs when you order.

Diestco also offers a variety of armrest bags that look thoughtfully designed, and cupholders for scooters, power, and manual chairs, along with many other accessories.

Calendar with Date Marker

call-tag.jpgDistinguishing one day from another is one of the difficulties of living in a nursing home. Sometimes it’s also an issue for people who don’t observe a routine outside of their usual living space.

Knowing what the day and date are and anticipating activities and holidays are important tools for keeping mental skills in good shape.

I was pleased to find this calendar last year for my dad. The daily squares are large enough so that I can note activities in large letters; my dad can easily read the calendar from his wheelchair.

This calendar also has an uncommon feature: a date marker. This is a red rectangle that slides on a transparent strip of plastic. The plastic band wraps around the calendar; you move the rectangle each day to the correct date. If Dad doesn’t remember what activities are on today’s schedule — or if he’s confused about what day it is — the rectangle cues him.

The only drawback is that it’s boring! We solved that in Dad’s room by hanging three different calendars (all showing Golden Retrievers, of course) next to this calendar. They’re folded so that only the glossy photos of dogs show.

On the first of the month when I change the page of the large calendar, I also flip the canine calendar pages, revealing three new dogs-of-the-month. Practicality and glamor; you can’t beat the combination!

I found this calendar in an office supply store last year, but haven’t seen it this year. It’s called AT-A-Glance Wall Calendar with Additional Features, and I found it online at mead.com.

Members of the DIY crowd could probably find a number of ways to implement a similar date marker on almost any wall calendar by making a bright cardboard rectangle and cutting a clear plastic strip from holiday packaging.

Accessory Bags for Wheelchairs, Walkers, Scooters and More

Managing the ‘things’ of everyday life is complicated if a wheelchair, walker, crutches or the like are also part of life. Where do you put the stuff you want, or like, to have with you as you during the day? I’ve seen a lot of bags that are theoretically mobility equipment friendly; most are poor adaptations of ordinary bags and neither well designed nor well made.

These accessories, from Adaptable Designs, are different. They seem to have been made by people who really understand how they’ll be used. Here’s a sampling of what Adaptable has to offer.

sidepouch.gif The “Sidekick Wheelchair Pouch” is meant to attach just below the seat of a manual wheelchair, on the inside of a manual wheelchair armrest, or on the outside of a power chair armrest. One pocket is fleece lined for glasses; there’s an open bellows pocket for bulkier items, and a zippered pocket for smaller items or for privacy. The zipper has a ring pull for easier use.

pouch.gifAdaptable’s “Versa Crutch Pack” would make even a six-weeks’ tour with crutches much more pleasant. If you’ve ever tried to handle a purse, a cell phone or a planner while swinging through life on crutches, you’ll see the utility of this bag. According to the website, this pouch’s

roomy main zippered compartment fits wallet, checkbook, comb/brush, medicine, etc. — even an occasional sandwich.

This one’s for standard crutches, forearm crutches, some power chairs and some scooters. In a typical thoughtful Adaptive Designs touch, there’s a strap to stabilize the pouch, so it doesn’t develop a rhythm of its own while you’re moving.

armorg.gifIf a backpack is overkill, and something like the Sidekick Pouch isn’t quite big enough, the “Just Right! Organizer” might be perfect. Like the bags above, it uses hook and loop straps to attach to

the inside armrest of manual wheelchairs; the inside or outside of scooter and power chair armrest; scooter tillers; [and] bedrails.

Whew. Here’s a partial description:

Fold-over zippered flap pocket is an ideal place for keeping checkbook, wallet and other valuables. Ring-type zipper pull is particularly helpful for those with limited hand dexterity. Keep the flap out to “hide” the contents of the outer bellowed pockets. Tuck the flap inside the main compartment if open access if preferred — the zippered pocket is still easily accessible.

There’s much more! Adaptable’s website is particularly user-friendly; you’ll find lots of information about which kind of equipment works best with which accessory, and specific size information, too.

Related:

DIY – Covers and Pouches for Mobility Aids

DIY – A Simple Cupholder for a Wheelchair

Pockets for a Wheelchair

DIY – Laptop Desk for Chair or Bed

ben-desk.jpgI’ve never liked chairs much, and work at my desk only when there’s no other option. My preferred writing mode is in, or on, a bed or couch, stretched out with my laptop in front of me. For a long time, I used a Targus laptop desk that I originally bought for travel. I like it very much, but I don’t much like having the weight of the laptop on my thighs for hours at a time.

Eventually I ran across IKEA Hacker, and discovered this mod of IKEA’s Benjamin stool. If you compute in bed or in a chair by necessity or by choice, this portable desk might enhance the experience. It’s been a great solution for me.

It took me just about 40 minutes to turn this $20 purchase into a terrific laptop desk. I use it every day, and it’s a pleasure every time. Mr. Smiley, on Hacker, used a $6 coping saw to do the cuts; I used my $6 hacksaw.

My version is a little taller than the one shown on Hacker; I had to trim the stool’s legs twice to get the height exactly where I wanted it, and the angle just right. (It’s smart to leave the stool too tall at first, if you’re not sure you’ve got the height calculated perfectly.)

Of course, this laptop desk isn’t adjustable once you’ve made it, but if $140 for a Laptop Laidback is a bit much, this could be a fine compromise.

I cut a piece of gripping mesh to fit between the laptop and the desk, which keeps the computer from sliding around. My laptop stays nice and cool, and so do I, since its underside isn’t in contact with my body. The desk’s relatively high clearance means that my lap and legs don’t feel cramped and don’t get numb when I work for hours, and if I sit up properly, the keyboard is at a perfect ergonomic angle. That’s good for my wrists and hands, too.

If you scroll down on the IKEA Hacker page, you’ll see a few more amusing variations on this theme, though nothing as useful as this particular “hack”.

Soothing Adjustable Slippers

old-friend.jpgMy dad’s circulatory problems are worsening, and he’s finding his shoes to be more and more uncomfortable. Severe edema in his legs means that the heels of his shoes hold his feet at an uncomfortable angle, but he still prefers wearing something shoe-like along with his compression stockings.

The adjustable slippers we gave him a couple of years ago were fine for casual wear at the time, and I’d still recommend them highly. Now, though, dad’s legs and feet need a bit more coddling: These sheepskin slippers, made by Old Friend, are just the thing. The heel makes them feel like shoes, and helps to keep them on Dad’s feet; the velcro over the top of the foot allows the slipper to be readjusted day-by-day as needed.

The wool fleece lining is light and airy, keeping pressure off Dad’s feet, and the open toes keep air circulating around his nails to minimize problems in that area.

Best of all, these slippers are cozy and luxurious, just like the traditional sheepskin slippers he used to wear and love.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that it took me several days of diligent hunting to find them in Dad’s size. One shop owner told me that he’d gotten a huge number in last year but had a terrible time “getting rid of them”! My advice? Snatch them up as soon as you find them — they’re a great idea, but I don’t think many people know they exist.

I found Dad’s at Muldoon’s in Wisconsin; Zappos also carries them, but they were out of his size, and I didn’t want to wait.

Note: Old Friend recommends freshening sheepskin footwear by dusting the interior with baking soda and letting it sit over night. Shake or vacuum the soda out the next day. Fashionistas who are slaves to the ubiquitous sheepskin boot, take note!

DIY – Small, Sleek Cart for Portable Oxygen

Modern portable units have revolutionized the lives of many oxygen users. Unlike the bulky and heavy tanks of former times, contemporary units are quite compact and often can even be worn like shoulder bags. The corresponding increase in mobility has quite literally changed lives, but for many, even the smallest units can be difficult to carry over the course of a few hours.

oxy-cart.jpgMetal carts are easily found and quite common. They’re ugly, though, look flimsy, and aren’t particularly user-friendly. One inventive son came up with this attractive and practical alternative for his mother. The base is a rectangular wooden box with sides just high enough to hold the tank in place. Two sturdy dowels lead from the back of the box to a thicker, horizontal dowel which forms the handle. The wheels are on a simple axle.

The sides of the box drop below the platform so that the cart is stable when upright; it rolls easily whether pushed or pulled. Mom pointed out that the handle was the perfect height for a little support when resting, saying that it felt a lot like having a cane along.

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Ergonomic Pen

blue-ergo-pen.jpgWhen hands are injured or stiffened or made clumsy by arthritis or other illnesses, it’s easy to lose the capacity to write. Like speaking a foreign language, pen-and-pencil skills tend to remain sharp only to the extent they’re used regularly. Conventional writing tools can be difficult to grip, though, and holding on to them may require so much concentration that the effort to make notes becomes just too much.

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