2002 Conference Proceedings

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Assistive Technology and Information Technology in the Home
Findings from a National Survey


Dawn Carlson, PhD, MPH
330 C Street SW,
Suite 3421
Washington, DC 20202
Phone: 202-401-2068
Fax: 202-205-8515

Nell Bailey, MA
1700 North Moore Street, Suite 1540
Arlington, VA 22209
Phone: 703-524-6686
Fax: 703-524-6630

At the time this proposal was prepared (Oct. 31, 2001), the AT/IT Survey was not completed. The expected completion date of the interview and data collection part will be November 15, 2001, and a complete report of findings will be available in December of 2001. The following, therefore, represents a description of the survey (design, research questions, and methods) and what we expect to find. Thanks, Dawn Carlson.

The Assistive Technology Act of 1998 (AT Act) was signed into law on November 13, 1998. The AT Act builds on its predecessor, the Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988 (Tech Act), and reaffirms the Federal role of promoting access to assistive technology (AT) devices and services for individuals with disabilities of all ages. Although a great deal of progress has been made in the past 10 years toward providing assistive technology to individuals with disabilities, there is a dearth of information documenting the extent of the progress and identifying the remaining barriers that prevent people with disabilities from acquiring assistive technology.

The Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA), under its Technical Assistance Project, an activity funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) under the Assistive Technology Act of 1998, has contracted with the University of Michigan, Survey Research Center, Division of Surveys and Technologies to conduct a nationally representative survey of the use and need of assistive technology and information technology (AT/IT) by individuals with disabilities. This survey has the potential to provide important and valuable insights into the use and need for AT/IT by persons with disabilities. Its aims are to

AT/IT use or need will be assessed in the contexts of home, school, work, and community.

At present, very little data exist on the use, need and satisfaction of AT by persons with disabilities. The primary source of information is the National Health Interview Survey. LaPlante, Hendershot and Moss (1992) found that in 1990 more than 13.1 million persons used AT. The same study also found that an additional 2.5 million persons needed AT; of these, about 60% could not pay for the needed devices. A more recent study by Russell, Hendershot, LeClere, Howie and Adler (1997) reported that in 1994, approximately 17 million people used AT. No data on need were presented but the study showed that use of AT has increased substantially over the previous decades. The RESNA Technical Assistance Project has supported the collection of data by state assistive technology projects regarding consumer experiences with AT from 1991 to 1997. However, RESNA’s data collection effort was not a longitudinal study nor did it represent the participation of the same group of states each year. A number of smaller surveys and studies on AT use have been conducted, but most of them dealt with specific aspects such as wheelchair use, or focused on select populations such as the elderly in nursing homes.

AT/IT Survey Design

The survey applies a dual frame design in which 1,400 respondents will be surveyed in depth through telephone interviews. The 400 respondents are selected using a random digit dialing (RDD) list of over 10,000 telephone numbers. Another 1,000 persons are selected from targeted lists of telephone numbers purchased from Survey Sampling, Inc., a reputable New England research institute that has provided such services to researchers since 1977. Special attention will be given to the needs of persons with disabilities.

The following types of questions about use and need will be asked:

Current Use

Current Need

The interview and data collection, entry, and cleaning phase will be completed in November of 2001. A complete report will be available in December of 2001.

Because of the rather broad scope of the AT/IT Survey and the limited time to present its findings, the presentation at CSUN’s conference in March of 2002 will consist of a complete overview of the survey’s background, design and methods, and respondent characteristics. Highlights of the most important findings will be presented, and an in-depth analysis of assistive devices and technologies used in the home will be presented. Findings from the AT/IT survey will be compared to other research to demonstrate its validity and reliability. As major source of information about AT/IT use in the home is the 1994-95 National Health Interview Survey, Phase 2 on Disability. Data contained in this survey show that 15.7 million persons with disabilities used some type of home accommodation.  As expected, use of home accommodations substantially increased with age (see table below).

Image showing that accommodations substantially increased with age.

However, the limited number and type of devices mentioned in the NHIS and preliminary data from the AT/IT survey based on open-ended responses suggest that AT use in the home is greater than the figures presented above. But more importantly, unmet need for AT/IT in the home – an important aspect in contemporary research – seems even greater than indicated by the NHIS-D.

Home modifications are an important means of accommodation for persons with disabilities and/or persons of advanced age. Home modifications not only make fuller and safer use of the home possible, they also decrease the need for personal assistance services in the home. They allow persons with disabilities and the aged to stay in their homes longer and thus prevent their displacement from community and society by way of institutionalization into nursing homes and other “assisted living” facilities.

Besides greater use and need, we expect this survey to show what efforts persons with disabilities undertake to obtain needed home modifications, where they go for help, and how service agencies respond to their needs (from the point of view of the consumer). Preliminary data suggest that today’s persons with disabilities are provided with more and better information about AT than ever before. Obtaining the “right kind” of AT for the home does indeed help very much in the performance of daily tasks and activities, but we expect gaps in service remain to be filled, particularly in relation to the financing of AT. We further expect to present findings from an in-depth analysis of device types used by type of disability, household composition, income, urban vs. rural, and where cell sizes are sufficient, estimates of AT/IT use and need in the home by state. The presentation will be rounded up with a discussion of the findings and their implications for persons with disabilities, their families and care givers, service providers, administrators, and policy makers.

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