Whether you’re caring for someone with a life-altering disability or have a senior loved one who is starting to notice the limitations of age, you may find that you need a little help in ensuring they maintain a good quality of life. Sometimes, that help comes in the form of assistive technology or those devices that help someone with a disability or age-related health concern navigate day-to-day life.
Although disabled individuals and seniors have their own unique concerns and goals, you’ll find quite a bit of overlap between the two groups as you start searching for assistive ethnology. Here’s your guide to everything you need to know about buying assistive technology smartly, so you aren’t left holding a big bill at the end of the day.
What Is Assistive Technology?
By definition, assistive technology is any item, piece of equipment, product or software program that provides someone with disabilities or physical limitations the ability to live independently, maintain functions or improve motor functions. While the name implies technological advancements, assistive technology can be quite simple, involving something like pictures on a communication board for a non-verbal child. It can also be complex, including hardware and software that allows an individual to better utilize the computer or understand school curriculum. Or it could be equipment that enhances mobility to make day-to-day travel easier.
Underneath the broad category of assistive technology, you will find:
- Computer hardware
- Computer software
- Devices like prosthetics or positioning devices
- Electronic devices
- Mobility assistance devices
- Senior assistance devices
Assistive technology is the key to independence and a high quality of life for those with physical and mental limitations due to disability or age.
For more information about assistive technology, visit:
What Is Adaptive Equipment?
Adaptive equipment is designed to help people perform daily tasks. Seniors who may have lost mobility and strength as they age or special needs individuals whose disabilities may cause them to need additional help can use adaptive equipment to remain independent and at home. Although seniors and those with special needs have different needs and goals, the truth is that there is a significant amount of overlap between the two types of adaptive equipment.
Adaptive equipment typically falls into three basic categories. These are:
Mobility assistance includes those devices that give an individual with limited mobility the ability to move throughout the home or community. Examples include:
- Orthopedic strollers
- Stair lifts
- Geri-chairs or lift chairs
For individuals struggling with decreased sensory input, including hearing or vision loss, or decreased strength, as can occur when a senior develops arthritis or degenerative bone disease, sensory assistance can help make daily living tasks easier. Some types of sensory assistance devices include:
- Hearing aids
- Visual aids
- Electronic readers
- Electronic alert and alarm systems
- Phones and remotes with large buttons
Finally, some assistive technology does not assist with mobility or sensory input but does help with day-to-day care needs. Some examples of this include:
- Dressing aids
- General medical aids
- Reaching or gripping tools and gadgets
- Adaptive door handles
- Adaptive utensils for feeding and cooking
- Adaptive gardening and hand tools
- Adaptive personal hygiene tools
- Adaptive appliances
For more information about sensory assistance and mobility assistance devices, visit:
So You Need Assistive Technology? How to Prioritize Your Purchase
Assistive technology is not cheap. Although you might be able to get some devices and equipment covered by insurance, some will come out of your own pocket. Here are some tips to help you prioritize equipment you should buy for yourself, your disabled loved one or your senior loved one.
- Consider Independence. First, consider what is necessary to encourage independence. From being able to navigate through the home to being able to perform daily hygiene and dressing tasks without help, your first goal should be to purchase those items that will encourage your loved one to remain independent.
- Talk to Professionals. The choice about which adaptive equipment is best for you or your loved one is best made with the help of a professional. Your professional team may include an occupational therapist, speech-language-hearing therapist, rehabilitation engineering professional and, in the case of children, teachers or special education professionals.
- Consider Specific Needs and Individual Goals. Ask yourself what activities the individual needs to be able to accomplish. What are the specific disabilities or weaknesses the individual has? How could adaptive equipment address those specific areas? The answer for what to buy is highly individualized based on the individual’s needs, so consider making a checklist of which activities are the most important and which equipment will help with those specific activities.
- Keep It Simple. In the world of adaptive technology, you can find something to fit any need or budget, but in general, simpler is usually better. For example, you don’t need a complex pill dispenser system for a senior who has trouble remembering which medication to take. A simple pillbox with spaces for each day is all that is needed.
- Consider a Trial. Some adaptive equipment and technology seems great on paper, but when you get it home, you find that it just doesn’t work for you or your loved one. Ask manufacturers if you can try the equipment for a period of time before committing to a purchase.
- Talk to Others. Do you know other seniors or individuals with disabilities? What about families who have loved ones who have used a device? Can you join a forum online for your specific challenge? Ask others who have been down this road before about their experience to determine which devices are worthy of your hard-earned money.
- Consider the Cost. Although you can’t put a price tag on independence, at some point you do have to consider your budget. What devices can you get help paying for? Does insurance cover the device? Are there sales going on at this time—Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Black Friday/Cyber Monday or even just general spring or summer sales? These considerations will help you determine where to prioritize your purchases.
For more help deciding which adaptive technology or assistance devices you need, visit these professional organizations:
For more information about deciding about adaptive equipment and assistive technology, visit:
How to Find a Reliable Seller
When it comes to adaptive technology, you’ll find a number of companies selling these products. Some have the best interests of their clients and customers in mind, while others are just looking to make money off of those who are struggling with mobility or sensory concerns. Here are some tips and tricks to find a reliable seller.
- Go to the Source. Start with the manufacturer of the device or product you’re considering buying. Going directly to the source when possible can help you save money and ensure you’re getting a quality product.
- Avoid the Cheapest Option. Although it makes sense to try to get a good price on your adaptive equipment, don’t go with the cheapest option just for the sake of saving money. Compare prices between a number of sellers before making a purchase. Use coupons, prepaid gift cards (which you can often buy on sale) and other discounts to save rather than looking for the bottom price from the seller.
- Go With the Name You Know. If you find an obscure seller offering adaptive equipment, be cautious. You are best going with a name you know and recognize, a brand that offers a solid reputation, than being scammed by a less-reputable seller.
- Investigate Carefully. Before you make a purchase with a company, make sure they are a good company to work with. Check the Better Business Bureau for any complaints. Ask your doctor or therapist for their knowledge of the company. If shopping online, look for a secure website with a security seal from companies like Norton Secured, McAfee Secure, Trustwave and TRUSTe.
- Check With the Experts. Your doctor, therapist, disability organization, local senior care facility, local senior center or state disability or aging office can all direct you to the best suppliers for adaptive equipment. Use these resources when researching your options.
- Ask About Return Policies. Choose a company with a reasonable return policy. While some types of equipment can reasonably be returned due to the nature of its use, you want a company that stands behind its products and will help make things right if a product fails to deliver the assistance promised. Read the returns and exchanges policy carefully before buying. If a company won’t stand behind its products, choose a different one.
- Choose a Pre-Qualified Dealer. Look for a dealership that is pre-qualified from a senior or disability organization. Silver Cross, for example, works to bridge the gap between customers and dealers and can put you in contact with a trustworthy supplier for assistive technology.
- Consider Training. Many pieces of assistive technology require training to use properly. Does the supplier offer training in the purchase price? Will they come to your home to provide this training, or will you need to take your disabled or senior loved one to a facility for training? Sometimes paying a little more for in-home training is worthwhile.
- Understand the Defective Assistive Device Act in Your State. Most states have some sort of defective assistive device legislation that protects you against purchasing a defective device. Check with the laws in your state, and ensure that the organization you are buying through operates within the confines of that law to ensure you are protected. This may mean you need to limit yourself to companies that operate legally within your state in order to ensure this important protection.
If you’re considering buying adaptive equipment used, you may be able to save a little money, but be careful. Here are some considerations to make before buying used equipment:
- Decide if Used Works. Some products are not sanitary or safe if purchased used, such as many personal care and hygiene assistance devices, while other products like most mobility equipment are perfectly fine to buy used.
- Be Safe. Never meet someone at his or her home to purchase a device without another person with you. Try to meet in a public location if possible when purchasing from strangers. Avoid giving out your address or other personal information to strangers online.
- Know the Expected Lifespan. Don’t buy something that’s almost ready to fail or expire. Know the expected lifespan of the particular piece of equipment you’re looking at before you buy it used.
- Know the Function. Make sure you can inspect the device or equipment knowledgeably. Do not buy something you’re not familiar with, as you might get a product that’s broken unknowingly.
- Be Cautious With Used Software. Software is constantly being updated. If you’re looking for software-based assistive technology, don’t jump on something that’s used until you’ve checked which version it is. Make sure you’re buying something that will be helpful and is not outdated.
- See or Try Before You Buy. Before buying something used, make arrangements to see it or try it out. You don’t want to end up buying something that doesn’t work.
- Research the Price. Research the price thoroughly before buying something used. Make sure you’re getting a discount. You should not pay full price or close to full price for something that’s been used already.
For more information on choosing a reliable seller for adaptive equipment, visit:
Here are some reputable sources for purchasing used adaptive equipment and assistive technology:
Installing and Learning Adaptive Equipment and Assistive Technology
Once you’ve found a reliable seller, you need to ensure that you can have the equipment installed properly and receive the necessary training on using it properly. After all, you’ll be investing quite a bit of money in ensuring your loved one’s needs are met. Here are some tips to help.
- When in Doubt, Go Pro. No matter how skilled you are at DIY jobs, some things are best left to the professionals with the right tools. Installing a stair lift, adding a wheelchair ramp and otherwise changing your home to accommodate the adaptive technology requires a professional’s hand.
- Remember That Disability Will Create Installation Challenges. If you are purchasing for yourself or intend to have a device delivered to your disabled or elderly loved one, be careful. Remember the limitations of the individual receiving the delivery. Picture a scenario in which someone receives a delivery of a piece of assistive technology. The delivery professional drops the box on the doorstep and leaves. How will a senior or a disabled individual get the box inside? How will they open it or access the device inside? Make sure that you have sufficient help to access the technology or device, even if professional installation is not required.
- Choose a Professional With Disability and Senior Care Knowledge. Before hiring a pro to help install your adaptive equipment, make sure that professional knows disability equipment well. This will help ensure a good fit for your products.
- Get the Necessary Training. Some adaptive equipment requires training to use properly. Talk to therapy and medical care teams to ensure you or your loved one is properly trained on how to use the equipment you’ve purchased. Training will ensure that the equipment gives the full range of functions it’s designed to provide.
- Learn the Setup, Maintenance and Adjustment Routines. When purchasing adaptive technology, make sure you know how it was set up. If your needs change and you need to adjust the device, make sure you know how. From something simple like a height adjustment to something more complex like software upgrades, make sure you know how to set up, maintain and update the equipment you buy. This should be part of your training on how to use the equipment.
Here are some resources to tap for more information about installing and learning adaptive equipment and assistive technology:
How to Find Deals and Get Reimbursement for Adaptive Equipment and Assistive Technology
No matter how smart you shop, you’re going to need a significant amount of money to pay for adaptive equipment and assistive technology. Here are some tips to help you find ways to save.
- Use all the Coupons You Can. Everything from medical supplies (including blood pressure monitors)to prescription drugs may have a coupon, so look carefully. When you are shopping for something that costs several thousands of dollars, a coupon will add up to big savings. Make a list of what you will need, then start looking for coupons.
- Exhaust Insurance Options. Insurance may cover assistive devices that are prescribed by a doctor as medically necessary. Unfortunately, this typically does not apply to handheld electronics, personal care items, hardware for installation and many mobility devices. Insurance will typically not cover professional installation, repairs and maintenance costs. Also, it requires a diagnosis of a medical condition. Still, you should pursue this option before paying in full for any equipment you need.
- Consider Trade-In Options. If your loved one already has the device in question, but it needs an upgrade, ask about trade-in options. You may be able to get a discount on a new model if you trade in the old one or upgrade to a better one.
- Look for Free Delivery. It may seem like a small thing, but free delivery is a great way to save on adaptive equipment. These devices are sometimes quite large and bulky, and this means they can garner high delivery charges.
- Check with Nonprofits. If your loved one has a specific medical condition or diagnosis, you may be able to get a grant or financial support from a nonprofit dedicated to that particular disability or condition. Check with your local support group.
- Consider a Low-Interest Loan. If all else fails, consider a home-equity loan or a loan backed by the state designed specifically for the purchase of assistive technology. These types of loans have low interest rates and can be quite affordable. For seniors who own a home, a reverse mortgage is another excellent choice.
- Ask the Local Schools. For young people or children with disabilities who have an IEP or 504 plan, the local school district may have funding for assistive technology that is necessary for classroom instruction. Sometimes, this technology will come home with the student.
- Check With Medicare. Medicare provides coverage for a limited amount of assistive technology depending on the individual’s need. This may be an option for both seniors specifically.
- Check With Medicaid. Medicaid is a federal-state health program for low-income individuals and individuals with specific disabilities. It may cover assistive technology on a case-by-case basis.
For more information about funding the purchase of assistive technology, visit:
For disability specific assistance, visit these organizations:
Finally, check with charitable organizations that sometimes provide funding for assistive technology, such as: