2002 Conference Proceedings

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REDUCING BARRIERS TO CUSTOMIZED ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY

Presenters:
Loraine Taneja
The Tetra Society of North America, Los Angeles Chapter
PO Box 7161
Northridge, CA 91327-7161
Phone: (818)832-3675
Fax: (818)832-3675
Email: tetra-la@linkline.com

Sarah Davies
The Tetra Society of North America
Box 27, Suite A-304
Plaza of Nations, 770 Pacific Boulevard South
Vancouver BC V6B 5E7 Canada
Phone (604)688-6464
Fax (604)688-6463

Introduction

The Tetra Society of North America is a non-profit organization that recruits technically skilled volunteer engineers, designers and technicians to create customized assistive devices for persons with disabilities. By applying simple technology to some of the everyday challenges faced by people with disabilities, our volunteers create assistive devices that can enhance client member's quality of life in tremendous ways. Through a series of case studies, Tetra will demonstrate that the use of simple technology in everyday challenges faced by people with disabilities can reduce costs to the health care system. Tetra's unique one-to-one service delivery model also ensures that simple assistive technology remains accessible and relevant to our client members' needs and bypasses the often complex qualification and application processes that people face when they need assistive devices.

The need for "accessible" simple assistive technology

According to a 1997 US Census Bureau report nearly 33 million people across the United States had a severe disability. The survey found that severe disability brought with it low income levels and that nearly half of the population with disabilities was without health coverage.1

The 1998 Assistive Technology Act was intended to remedy the problems faced by this group. Title II, Section 202 of the Act required the National Council on Disability to "describe the barriers in federal assistive technology policy to increasing the availability of and access to assistive technology devices and assistive technology services for individuals with disabilities."

Subsequently, in her 2000 report to the President, Marca Bristo, Chair of the National Council on Disability (NCD), stated that [The Assistive Technology Act notwithstanding] "the current patchwork of federal policies have barriers and gaps leaving many people with disabilities without the benefits of assistive technology." The report identified the following barriers:

* Awareness: Aggressive awareness initiatives are needed to educate individuals who could benefit from assistive technology, their families and friends, service providers, and the public about the assistive technology available today.

* Comprehensive and Coordinated Funding: Existing laws and policies that fund assistive technology have gaps that fail to address the needs of many individuals with disabilities. Today's policies are a maze of conflicting definitions....and requirements...consumers are left with the daunting task of learning each system's policies to be able to advocate for the assistive technology they need.

* Research, Development, and the Technology Transfer: Frequently when new assistive technologies become available they are priced far beyond the range of most individuals with disabilities or elders.2

Tetra North America was created to bypass these kinds of barriers. Tetra's mission is simple - to provide free, custom-made assistive devices to people who need them.

Tetra's services are offered free through funding from its partners in the non-profit sector. Health care services realize a tremendous savings because the largest portion of the cost of devices is the knowledge and ingenuity contributed by Tetra's volunteer force of engineers, electricians, carpenters and other skilled technicians. Tetra matches an expert with a disabled person facing obstacles to independence in such areas as self-care, work and leisure. They work together until a solution is found and tested. Clients - and only if they are able - pay for the project's raw materials.

Sample case study

Sam Sullivan, founded Tetra in 1988 in Vancouver, British Columbia. Sullivan, who became a quadriplegic after a skiing accident as a young man, required twice-daily visits by a home attendant after his rehabilitation. The cost to the health care system at the time ranged from $50 to $75 per visit. Sullivan thought that he could do much more for himself if only he had the tools. He recruited a retired engineer who volunteered to help him design some simple devices to assist him around the house. Soon he needed his attendant only once per week and Tetra was born. In Sullivan's case, which is typical, the direct savings to the government, calculated at a modest estimate of $50 per visit, have totaled $33,800 per year (almost a half a million dollars over the years). Once homebound, frustrated and sometimes even distraught, Sam Sullivan is today a busy city councilor in Vancouver, who, in his free time, camps and sails and travels the world over - all without an attendant.

Discussion/ Presentation

Our presentation will address this client's transition from dependence to independence through a visual presentation of various simple technology projects completed on his behalf. Each assistive device showcased will illustrate how simple technology can significantly reduce health care costs.

Tetra will also demonstrate how the establishment of Tetra chapters throughout Canada and the United States has increased community participation of people with disabilities. The unique one to one relationships that Tetra facilitates between clients and volunteers helps reduce the barriers identified above that prevent individuals from using simple assistive technology effectively. The one to one support that our volunteers provide ensures that clients have access to customized assistive devices that are relevant to their unique needs.

1 "Americans With Disabilities: Household Economic Studies," U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. Census Bureau, Issued February 2001.

2 "Federal Policy Barriers to Assistive Technology," National Council on Disability, May 31, 2000. www.ncd.gov/newsroom/publications/assisttechnology.html. Reducing Barriers to Customized Assistive Technology, page 2


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