Tag Archives: technology

From Isolated To Independent: Celebrating National Assisted Living Week

Now in its 21st year, National Assisted Living Week celebrates the lives and achievements of individuals with disabilities, long-term illnesses and injuries. In observance of this year’s theme, “Keep Connected,” we are taking the time to recognize the many ways that technology can be used to increase opportunity and facilitate better care and communication.

National Assisted Living Week 2016

This year’s theme is, “Keep Connected” 

For as long as humans have walked the earth, we’ve sought to simplify and improve our lives with the use of technology.

From the earliest stone tools to the first personal computers, our inventions serve as a means to enhance our natural abilities, helping to strengthen our relationships with others and refine our understanding of the world.

A Smarter, More Connected World

Technology has granted us the power to not only improve but extend and save lives. Medical advances have given us greater power to diagnose and treat illnesses than ever before, and now “smart” assistive tech promises to revolutionize the way people suffering from debilitating illness or catastrophic injury live their lives as well.

Fitbit Surge via pcmag.com

The “tech revolution” includes personal trackers like this Fitbit Surge – via pcmag.com

The Internet has long been a means of virtual connection, allowing users to communicate with one another whether across the street or across the world. Now, the Internet is increasingly used to connect us to the world itself. Smart devices – Internet-enabled objects powered by ever-smaller chips and sensors – have begun a revolution in which everything from watches to WiFi thermostats are able to share data with us and with each other. While the obvious appeal is often novelty or convenience, this shift also represents a powerful new way for people with a disability to live richer, more connected and more independent lives.

Vivint smart assistant

A “smart assistant” can help you control multiple features in your home – via vivint.com

Staying Connected

Each year, National Assisted Living Week encourages us to celebrate those who require assisted living and their caregivers, as well as to recognize the unique challenges they face. This year’s theme reminds us how vitally important it is for individuals with chronic diseases or disabilities to stay connected to friends, family and the world around them. Feelings of isolation and helplessness are common, and disability can erect seemingly insurmountable physical and social barriers. Fortunately, that may not be the case for much longer. Technology provides solutions that may allow disabled individuals to live more independent and interconnected lives, leading to improved quality of life and overall well-being.

Suria Nordin Kirby Nordin HelpHOPELive

Kirby repurposed existing tech to make life easier for his wife, our client Suria Nordin

Empowerment through Technology

The steady march of technology continues to remove obstacles that once isolated individuals with disabilities. Where the ability to operate a mouse and keyboard was once a necessity, voice recognition technology now provides easier access to phones, computers and other devices. Artificial intelligence, though still in its early stages, has already given us personal assistants that can handle many routine tasks that were once a source of struggle for many people. Home automation grants the power to remotely control and automatically adjust the local environment, from thermostat settings to interior lighting to door locks and other security features. Wearable technology opens new avenues not only for staying connected but for doctors and health workers to collect important information that may allow them to provide a higher level of personalized care.

Mikki Marshall control4

Mikki Marshall controls her home environment through technology for greater independence – via control4.com

Turning Disability into Ability

“Smart” technologies like home automation, service robotics and the Internet of Things are still in their infancy, but their potential impact is already being felt. The future has never looked brighter for individuals living with chronic illnesses, catastrophic injuries and other disabilities, as these technologies are poised to revolutionize the way they interact with the world, connect with friends and family and manage their health. Providing assistance that allows for more active endeavors and ability to enjoy many of the freedoms others take for granted, technology can provide tremendous support for people with disabilities and those who care for them.

robot assistant spectrumieee.org

Robot assistants could revolutionize home health care and senior care – via spectrum.ieee.org

Mobile technologies may also lead to improved health care and lower medical costs by providing more high-quality data, assisting in the diagnosis and management of health conditions, helping to prevent accidents and keeping patients actively involved and invested in their care.

Vivint text alerts

Integrated assistive tech can eliminate anxieties and open new possibilities

Technology has always had a central role in shaping both the present and the future. As smart products and mobile computing devices become more sophisticated, they will continue transforming the ways in which we interact with both our surroundings and one another. The many obstacles that people with disabilities and debilitating illnesses face won’t disappear overnight, but by keeping – and staying – “connected,” the world is a more welcoming and accessible place for everyone.

This guest post was written and submitted by Beth K, a freelance writer specializing in home automation and technology topics. How will you celebrate National Assisted Living Week?


Learning To Adapt: How A Business Owner Supports His Wife After Injury

In honor of National Family Caregivers Month this November, we’re profiling individuals who play a key role in the care and happiness of their loved ones. In July of 2014, Kirby G. Smith was thrust into one of the most intense experiences of his life. Suria Nordin, then his fiancée, became paralyzed while vacationing with Kirby in Jamaica. By July of 2015, Kirby had founded SunKirb Ideas, a game-changing “smart home” installation and management company.

Kirby hopes to offer ease, efficiency and manageable overhead costs to families coping with a disability or injury. We picked Kirby’s brain to find out how smart home tech could revolutionize daily life for American families.

Kirby Smith and Suria Nordin HelpHOPELive injury spinal cord injury wheelchair SunKirb Ideas

Suria and Kirby in their neighborhood. Source: Wall Street Journal

After your wife’s injury, what modifications were needed to create a supportive home environment?

We had to modify multiple elements of our house, including our home entrances, the heights of our light switches, the bathroom configuration, our flooring and our emergency response options.

How did you begin to discover the benefits of smart home tech?

When Suria was injured, I wasn’t very motivated to seek out adaptive equipment because of the exorbitant prices for purchase and installation. As a result, I started to take a closer look at regular consumer products. It turned out that MANY of these products were already outfitted with adaptive technologies, but those features were not well-advertised.

Kirby Smith Suria Nordin HelpHOPELive home

Kirby found creative ways to make life easier for Suria. Source: Wall Street Journal

When it comes to adapting for disabilities, people tend to just purchase the tech without looking into the value. I realized that instead of asking families to look for expensive adaptive equipment, I could help them to adapt existing equipment for their needs. I realized this was really a gap in the market: services from a company that understands disability and aging directly.

What kind of cost-effective conversions did you discover?

The first four months after Suria was injured were challenging. We had no one to turn to to discuss life after injury when it came down to the nuts and bolts of home modification. In one instance, I searched for a piece of technology that would allow Suria to turn on the television with her voice. A vendor presented me a customized voice-activated device that would cost us $6,000. To me, that price was outrageous. Instead of making that purchase, I picked up a $400 Xbox console, which has built-in audio recognition that can completely control a television set, including sites such as Netflix and cable box or TiVo DVRs.


An Xbox can be used in place of a $6,000 modification.

The second piece of the puzzle was making physical adaptations without relying on installation services. Every adaptive tech business sold its product aggressively, but no one showed you how to adapt your home without paying a professional to do so. Different vendors handled each piece of the home, from the lights to the doors to the television, with huge service markups attached to each. The vendors pushed their own product and didn’t work on continuity. We would have had to find our own tech-savvy contractor to adapt the house on a physical level. Learning how to do that on my own gave me the experience I needed to help others do the same without paying exorbitant installation fees.

Why don’t businesses advertise adaptive uses for consumer products?

The average person doesn’t even think about these considerations. In Xbox’s case, the company wants to appeal to gamers primarily. Businesses don’t want to lose their core markets, so they tend to shy away from using language like ‘adaptable’ or ‘adaptive’ because they are so afraid of alienating their core consumers.

game marketing Battlefield

Afraid of alienating core consumers, most companies don’t advertise accessibility.

How did your professional background inform your business?

My tech background as a Senior VP of IT helped me to identify what was a good deal and what was an outrageous proposition. We had to design portions of our systems to accommodate persons with disabilities. I’ve been aware of that [need] throughout my career.

How can intelligent tech impact the lives of families coping with an injury?

Smart tech can provide cost savings while improving safety and comfort. A smart house can monitor energy usage and save you money while you’re away from home – for example, the system will adjust the temperature to save energy if it senses that you are away from your home and then, as it learns your schedule, it will bring the temperature back to comfort levels before you arrive. Our home tech learns Suria’s patterns and adapts to them. We have smart smoke detectors that pick up smoke and CO2, but the alarms can identify both the exact location of the issue AND the degree of emergency. If someone burns the toast and there is smoke in the kitchen, the device will inform us of the issue but will also note that it doesn’t pose an immediate threat to our safety. The sensors also detect motion and can alert us if we are away and there is movement in the house. They can also tell the thermostat we’re out, and lower energy levels to save power.

smart home

Smart tech can save users money and improve safety.

Can smart homes help caregivers, too?

As a caregiver, I use our home features as much as Suria does! Technology streamlines and simplifies everything. Caregivers can monitor their homes and their loved ones and keep in constant contact, especially in case of emergencies. When everything is connected, it becomes easier for EVERY member of the family to live a fulfilling life.

Are there benefits to using smart tech beyond physical disability support?

It’s nice to have equipment that assists you but isn’t stigmatizing. There is a ‘cool’ factor to a lot of this technology that supersedes the disabled label – in fact, my first SunKirb Ideas clients are not disabled. That’s what’s so powerful about connected home technology: it transcends traditional labels and limitations. I truly think we’re on the cusp of very affordable technology that can change lives, and I’m proud to be on the forefront of that.

smart house family

Smart tech can transcend the ‘disability’ label to appeal to everyone.

Why not expand your business to the general market?

After what I went through with Suria, serving families who are coping with disabilities is my passion and where my heart lies. I’m not speaking from theory when I address consumers – I’ve lived it, and that gives me a perspective I can share with others. By testing things with Suria, I was able to determine what would work for others with similar situations or even completely different concerns (blindness, for instance). I’m not in this to form a gigantic company – I am looking for fulfillment and the ability to provide a good service. I want to be able to walk away feeling like the money I made is supporting a worthy cause.

Like what you’re hearing? Share your thoughts on caregiving after injury, smart homes and disability-friendly technology with us on Twitter.

Meet ‘The Most Accessible CEO In America’

Americans who use wheelchairs spend billions annually on travel and entertainment. Are American restaurants, hotels and hotspots prioritizing accessibility? Brett Heising, the founder and CEO of the accessibility review site brettapproved, Inc., shares his perspective.

Brett Heising founder CEO brettapproved disability accessibility review

What is brettapproved all about?

Our platform offers user-submitted accessibility reviews for restaurants, hotels and entertainment venues across America. Brettapproved allows people of all ages who use wheelchairs to mindfully plan out their next excursion, whether they’re heading to a neighboring town on a Saturday night or across the country to visit family.

Are American hotspots making an effort to improve accessibility?

For the vast majority of the establishment owners I speak to, their hearts are in the right place. They are in hospitality, so they really have an inherent dedication to customer service. Every property has elements that need to be overcome or altered, but owners can do a lot: little things, like reconsidering furniture placement in a hotel room or extending the width between tables in a restaurant, go a long way toward improving accessibility for people in chairs.

People in wheelchairs are just like everyone else – we just sit down more. We have the same hopes, dreams and aspirations. When the stigma surrounding us disappears, anything is possible. Attitude is everything, for travelers who use wheelchairs and for business owners.

Do you ever receive negative reactions to your visits?

It all boils down to one word: responsibility. Often, when I talk to a hotelier or restauranteur, I am able to show them a brand new context and a new perspective on accessibility. I’ll say to them, “I’m glad you have never had to think about these challenges before. But now that we’ve met, you have a responsibility to do your best.”

No one wakes up and wants to treat a group of people disrespectfully. They just don’t know that it’s a problem until we show them. Once you know, you have to do the best you can to fix it.

How has the public responded to brettapproved so far?

There are so many people who have reached out to me via email supporting the platform! I remember one conversation with a woman named Cathy, whose daughter, Maria, is disabled due to hydrocephalus. Maria is just the most beautiful little girl you’ve ever seen – there is life and light in her eyes. Cathy told me how much she and her family depend on brettapproved and use the site not just to read reviews but to write reviews together when they visit new hotspots. They are not only using the platform for their own purposes but using it to contribute to greater advocacy and support for the entire network.

It’s amazing to see people gravitate towards the brettapproved online community. As human beings, we want to give of ourselves, regardless of our ability level. That’s a fact that drives me and so many others. It’s a powerful aspect of brettapproved, and we will never lose sight of it.

Brett Heising CEO founder brettapproved

Can individuals who do not use wheelchairs still be a part of your mission?

If you are someone who doesn’t have a friend or a loved one who relies on a wheelchair, that’s a blessing. As an able-bodied person, you can still support brettapproved, and we highly encourage it. Maybe you don’t need a room with a rolling shower, but if you find yourself in an accessible room the next time you visit a hotel, take pictures of the room, add the room number and property name and post it on brettapproved.com. The more we share the better the site will be! You can reach out to us to learn more about becoming a certified reviewer. I love seeing individuals with all different ability levels come together to support this cause.

Should people who use wheelchairs just stay home to avoid complications with accessibility?

Absolutely not. Your body is just a cradle for your mind. Being nervous or anxious can definitely be a barrier to travel, but there is no ‘reset’ button. This life is the only one we get, so make the most of it! Resources like brettapproved can help you to plan appropriately so that natural anxiety does not overwhelm you or ruin your trip.

My goal is to be the most accessible CEO in America. If you’re nervous about travel, give me a call or shoot me an email. It’s always possible to work through anxiety and travel confidently.

Ultimately, just because a specific location receives a low rating on brettapproved does not mean that people who use wheelchairs should avoid those locations. It just means that if you go, you should be prepared for an adventure.

What I’ve realized over time is that when people extend themselves to you and tell you they can help you, on some level, the person who is offering you help feels rejected if you decline that assistance. It’s actually mutually beneficial for you to accept help when it’s presented to you. Say yes! Thank people sincerely for being part of the process!

What sort of expenses will people who use wheelchairs have to cover to travel comfortably?

Most people with a permanent physical disability do not earn the same as their able-bodied counterparts. To add to that injustice, people with wheelchairs inevitably have higher expenses to maintain quality of life. A wheelchair cushion alone can cost hundreds of dollars. Wheelchair tires or tubes can run $100 or more per component.

I think it’s important to realize that just like everybody else, people with disabilities run the socioeconomic strata. We strive to showcase upper-crust hotels but also budget-friendly hotels and restaurants. Find places that work for you, based on your budget and your needs.

What should someone do if they encounter resistance or hostility from staff at a particular establishment?

Let me tell you what I do myself. Instead of getting heated, I roll back for a second, and take 30 seconds, two minutes or whatever it takes to cool off a little. Then, I reapproach the situation calmly and gently lay out for the staff member who I am and what my needs are. I ask the staff member, “How can we work together? What can I do as a consumer to help you help me?” My final approach is to look the individual right in the eyes and ask, “Can I count on you to help me?”

There is a part inside of each and every one of us that is willing to go the extra mile to ensure that someone else is satisfied not only as a consumer but as a human being. We need to take responsibility for our lives and not just ask hoteliers and restauranteurs to take the next step. It’s not all about what the world can do for us. I’m an individual in a chair, but I don’t approach the world saying, you owe me this. The world owes us nothing, but it will give us everything if we take responsibility for our actions and put ourselves in position to be successful.

Where do you see brettapproved going within the next decade?

A prudent saying comes to mind: “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans!” Everything I do and have done in my life I have done with a singular focus on growth and success. Within the next decade, we should have millions of brettapproved users who rely on our platform to connect with family and friends, plan business trips and experience the rich life they deserve. We are also envisioning a boutique hotel chain that would be 100% wheelchair accessible – wouldn’t that be something? Instead of planning to stay in one of three or four accessible rooms in a particular hotel, you could have your pick of the entire building.

Word-of-mouth awareness and digital outreach is a major part of our short-term development strategy. I think major hotel chains need to know who we are and what we do. It serves our company no purpose to slam anybody and it’s counterproductive. I want every restauranteur and hotelier to be an ally and to view brettapproved as a resource. I also want anyone with a physical disability or mobility challenge to use the site. After all, the platform is for all of us! So please sign up for an account today.

brettapproved disability review Brett Heising wheelchair

Learn more about brettapproved online and on Facebook. Thanks for your insights, Brett!

An Inside Look At Spinal Cord Injury Physical Therapy

About 12,500 people will experience a spinal cord injury this year. How will physical therapy impact their lives? Amy Bratta, the spinal cord injury therapy manager at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in Philadelphia, answers our questions about SCI rehabilitation.

Amy Bratta Magee spinal cord injury physical therapy sci rehabilitation philly philadelphia

What sort of social support is provided to individuals who pursue inpatient physical therapy?

Here at Magee Rehabilitation, we collaborate on a multidisciplinary team that includes clinical neuropsychologists and an extensive peer support program for patients and families with individual and group options.

What technologies are available to promote independence for people with spinal cord injuries?

We try to give people opportunities to try equipment that will enable them to be more independent in their homes and communities. We have an amazing “Smartroom” that shows some of this new technology. Identifying the best technology tools to promote independence depends on understanding an individual’s mobility level and the funding that he or she has access to in order to continue using the tools at home.

HelpHOPELive: We’ll be taking a closer look at some of these cutting-edge modalities in a future Blog post. Stay tuned!

Which spinal cord injury support initiatives are you most excited about?

We’ve started a pilot SCI “medical home” program for injured individuals. There are similar models for people with chronic diseases, but very few available for people with spinal cord injuries. It’s an attempt to follow people closely after they leave inpatient rehabilitation and transition back to the community. The medical home multidisciplinary team provides proactive support and services to minimize medical complications and promote optimal health after a spinal cord injury.

Spinal cord injury therapy is a fast-moving space in which professionals try to seek answers and tailor technological developments to individual needs. Stem cell research and other medical developments continue to give people hope that in the future we will have more answers than we have now.

Amy Bratta treadmill physical therapy sci spinal cord injury PT Magee Rehabilitation Philly Philadelphia

What is essential to success as a spinal cord injury physical therapist?

Collaboration is essential. We work closely on a multidisciplinary team to provide well-informed and complete support. We typically look for new team members who are self-motivated, willing to learn and invested in teamwork. There is a physical component to our work, but it is also very emotional. Working with individuals and their families after a traumatic injury can be an intense and rewarding experience.

What have you learned from the injured individuals you’ve worked with?

With each person that I’ve worked with, what stands out to me is the strength of the human spirit. A person going through trauma can and will deal with the outcome and move forward to the best of his or her ability. That applies to social and emotional transitioning as well as physical rehabilitation. Sometimes I truly feel that I’ve learned more from some of our patients than they have learned from me!

Ekso bionic exoskeleton sci spinal cord injury Amy Bratta Magee Rehabilitation physical therapy Philadelphia

When Penn State quarterback Adam Taliaferro was injured in 2000, he had surgery, followed by 7 months of in- and outpatient services at Magee. What was it like working with Adam?

Adam is an extraordinary young man who came in with very little active movement initially. He was always very present, highly motivated, mentally tough and positive, and he carried that attitude not only into his own care and therapy but into the lives of others who were struggling with similar injuries. That’s the beauty of being here: people going through similar experiences can be there for each other. Adam is an exceptional example of giving back while pursuing personal rehabilitation.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

I like that my job is very dynamic. Every day is a little bit different. You have to adapt, even if you think you have a plan! I meet some incredible people. You walk in the door and see what other people are dealing with, and suddenly your problems or issues seem completely insignificant by comparison.

My work inspires me and gives me perspective. I appreciate the opportunity to serve people who have been through trauma and injury. Every day when I come to work, I feel like I still have a role in helping people to receive the best care they possibly can. It can be a very emotional job – but for us, working in this field means entering a very special place where we can make a significant and lasting impact on an individual’s life.

Amy Bratta spinal cord injury sci physical therapy rehabilitation Magee Philadelphia

We appreciate your time, Amy! Visit the Magee Rehabilitation Hospital website to learn more about Amy Bratta’s work.