Featured image for5 Types of Assistive Technology You Didn’t Know You Needed Until COVID-19

Contributors to this blog include PATF Funding Assistance Coordinators Katie Krum, Katherine Reim, and Carmella Rynearson

As we adjust to our new reality during this pandemic, one thing is certain: technology has pulled us through, yet again.

When the coronavirus started spreading across the world, many people had to learn to do things differently. They had to adapt what they had done in the past in a new way. With the stay-at-home order and schools and businesses closing, means of education changed, work changed, recreation changed, even a trip to the grocery store presented new barriers – for all of us. But adaptation is something that people with disabilities have known about for a very long time.

Adapting is really just a different way to do something. When you have a routine that works for you, it can be hard to change – it can be frustrating and scary to do things differently when you were comfortable in your old ways. For people with disabilities, though, adaptation is often a way of life. In a world that too often has not been designed with varied users in mind, the use of assistive technology has been one solution for individuals with disabilities trying to adapt.

In the last few months, certain devices have emerged as being particularly helpful to people wanting to maintain some independence, quality of life, and a semblance of normalcy during this crisis. Here are five types of assistive technology we have been hearing a lot about lately:

  1. A man smiles from the drivers seat of a vehicle with his hands gripping hand controls.

    Matt uses hand controls to drive his adapted van.

    Adapted Vehicles: At a time when people are staying home more than ever, an increase in requests for financing for adapted vehicles seems counterintuitive. However, many members of our community relied on public transportation and paratransit prior to COVID-19. Closures and significantly reduced availability meant they were left without a way to get around. Even as transportation options re-open, those who are at higher risk of infection due to disability, health conditions, and age want to minimize potential exposure. Having your own transportation, even if it’s just for grocery trips and doctor’s appointments, is critical for many people right now.

  2. Smart Phones, Computers, Tablets and Video Communication Apps: Okay, okay, these devices were already daily staples for the vast majority of us, but as one of our Funding Assistance Coordinators (FACs), Katie Krum put it, “I hope you bought stock in Zoom at the beginning of this pandemic, because Zoom is the glue holding our society together right now.” Carmella Rynearson, another PATF FAC explained further, “Something as simple as a smart phone or tablet allows social connections with family and friends, the ability to order needed supplies, and even to conduct medical appointments. Also, with the expansion of systems and software for online learning and remote work, individuals with disabilities have greater opportunities to meet educational and occupational needs and goals.” Smart phones, tablets, and computers, as well as apps like Google Duo, Skype, Facetime, and Zoom are connecting us in new ways and more than ever before.

    A woman seated in a power wheelchair looks down at her smart phone mounted on the arm of her chair.

    Suria uses a smart doorbell to see who is at her front door from the app on her smart phone.

  3. Smart Home Technology: Smart home devices can be used to increase independence and safety in your home in a variety of ways (watch PATF’s Smart Home Technology Project video for just a few examples). We have, however, seen a notable spike in requests recently for smart home technology that can help with contactless interactions. For example, smart doorbells allow you to interact with someone outside via video/audio on your smart device without ever opening the door; smart cameras let you know when your grocery or other delivery has arrived; automated door openers mean you can control entry without being present at the front door; and devices like Amazon Show provide a means to do any number of things from turning on lights to ordering groceries to calling a friend, all without touching a thing.
  4. Captioned Phones: As nearly all in-person interactions have been halted, the good old-fashioned telephone remains a primary means of communication. For those who have a hard time hearing on the phone, this may have been just the motivation they needed to finally get a captioned phone. According to CaptionCall, one provider of free captioned phones, “Ongoing, unprecedented call volumes show how crucial captioning services are for staying connected.”

    A girl talks with her hands to her classmates through video chat on her tablet screen at a desk.

    Penny and her classmates connect via video conference calls to continue schoolwork at home.

  5. Technology that Helps with Cleanliness: Back in March we published a blog with ways to keep ourselves safe, particularly when you use personal attendant services and have multiple people coming in and out of your house on any given day. Between the time we wrote it and when we posted it a few days later, two pieces of technology mentioned were completely sold out! What were those devices? One was the UV cleaner that can sanitize items without use of soap and water (great for small electronics, such as cell phones and car keys with remote lock/unlock buttons). The other was a timer that lights up and plays a tune to prompt you to wash your hands for a full 20 seconds. Hand washing and general cleanliness aren’t going anywhere, and we anticipate seeing these devices in use long after this is all over.

If you have a disability or you are an older Pennsylvanian and you could use any of the above mentioned devices to do the things you want to do, then that device is considered assistive technology – and that means PATF can help you find funding for it. Call us, email us, reach out to us, and let’s get through this pandemic and recovery together – using technology.