Advanced Mobility Products Giving New Freedoms to the Physically Challenged

There was a time not too long ago people with disabilities often found themselves confined to wheelchairs. Today those with such challenges feel anything but confined. The modern marvels of robotics and microelectronics are allowing the “differently-abled” to live, work, and play just about like anyone else. “âÂ?¦Wheelchairs have come a long way in being able to help patients achieve independence.” Says Dr. Stephen Stricker, Rehabilitation Specialist with UM Jackson Memorial Hospital. “âÂ?¦A big part of rehabilitation is trying to help a child or an adult become independent. As independent as possible for doing activities of daily living, of getting from one place to another, being able to turn on the household appliances, being able to reach the objects in the upper cabinets.”

Assistive technologies and legislation like the Americans With Disabilities Act are opening many more doors for the seated population. However since the nature of disabilities can vary as widely as the disease states or injuries that cause them, the greatest mobility can be achieved with customized equipment. There are many companies that specialize in designing custom seating systems, tailor made to an individuals needs. According to Joe Escobedo with one such company, it all starts with a complete evaluation of the patient. “We work with the doctor the physical therapists the occupational therapists; we try to approach it as a team to determine what is going to work best for the child or the patient. What we want to focus on is the diagnosis and the prognosis. What their situation is now and what their situation is going to be in the near future”

Former collegiate athlete Marc Buniconti, and now spokesman for the Miami Paralysis project knows full well how devastating a spinal injury can be. “In 1985 I walked on to a football field as I had done thousands of times before, and all I was doing was doing what I loved best, and that was playing football, trying to follow in some pretty big footsteps of my Hall of Fame father, Nick Buoniconti, and I was making a tackle like I had done many many times before, and in a split second I had gone from probably the best shape of my life to fighting for my life as I made a tackle and became paralyzed.” Today as spokesperson for the Miami Project, Marc could not be in the forefront of raising support for vital spinal cord research, without the comfort and mobility provided for him by his power chair and seating system. “Technology has really come light-years from when I was injured in ’85. Dramatically especially for assistive technologies, sip and puff wheel chairs, environmental control units to be able to make your quality of life that much better. Mechanisms that can do daily things, that allow you to be more independent. And that’s what it really boils down to, yes through your injury you lose your independence, but these technologies allow you to really increase your independence and have a better quality of life.”

Healthcare professionals are seeing the positive results their patients receive with custom wheel chairs and seating products. This is why many orthopedists, neurologists and other rehab professionals are working closely with manufacturers and insurers to make custom systems more accessible to consumers. Says Dr. Stricker “Access to technology is still a problem and still largely because of costs. A relatively high tech motorized wheel chair for instance, that can elevate the seat or that can climb stairs, may cost as much as thirty thousand dollars, and that’s something that insurance companies, Medicaid, Medicare, government third party payers really don’t want to pay, and sometimes it’s a struggle to be able to achieve funds for patients to have access to this high technology. We are working hard with agencies, with manufacturers, to help with paper work, with letters of medical necessity prescriptions, that sort of thing, to help with funding issues, and get patients the equipment they need.”

Of course research continues, and there may come a time when a cure for some forms of paralysis may be a reality, until then assistive technologies that provide some freedom to the physically challenged are providing a moving experience to patients and their families.

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