Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What’s Wrong with Used AT?

By Allan Friedman, CFILC's Technologies Manager

There seems to be some reluctance on the part of many AT professionals to recommend or assist consumers in acquiring used assistive technology devices. Medi-Cal, Medicare, the Veteran's Administration and other funders will not fund the purchase of a used AT device; only new will do. Why?

The number one barrier to getting AT is cost. Consumers who lack insurance are often ineligible for funding from other sources. With little or no income of their own, they are regularly forced to endure long waits to replace worn out devices or to get AT in the first place. Used devices could fill this void, allowing more people to live independently.

The need is especially great for durable medical equipment (DME). Wheelchairs, scooters, lifts and other devices can mean the difference between dependency on others and maintaining one’s independence and quality of life.

With such a great need and demand for AT, I wonder why so few organizations serving people with disabilities are willing to accept donations of used AT. Indeed, much of the DME that is donated often ends up overseas, serving a valid need in the third world. But much of that equipment could just as well be serving the need here at home.

While there are challenges to running an AT reuse program, especially for DME, successful programs in other states prove it can be done without harm to the organizations or compromise on the part of the consumers. By extending the useful life of devices, we keep waste out of our landfills, fill a need in our communities and maximize the return on investment for cash strapped government programs that are often the funders of new AT.

New is not necessarily better. Properly sanitized and refurbished, most AT and DME can continue to be useful and meet a need for those who receive them. We’ve got to give up our tendency to dispose of things and begin to think seriously about reuse. It is the easiest and least expensive way to expand the availability of AT and DME for people in our communities with the greatest need and least resources.

The above article represents the opinion of the author.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Where the AT Network and the Refueling Act Meet

Written by Mazuri Colley, Information and Assistance Advocate

You may know that calling 1-800-390-2699 will lead you to the AT Network’s Information and Referral Line, but what you may not know is that you can find that number (or should find that number) posted at every gas station across the great state of California.

At this point you may be wondering, why? And if you are, you are asking a great question! What do gas stations across California and the AT Network have in common? I can tell you the answer in two words….Refueling Act (also known as Business and Professions Code Section 13660).

In short, the Refueling Act states that people with disabilities displaying a license plate or placard from the DMV should receive assistance with refueling upon request. There are a few exceptions that release a gas station owner from this provision, like, for example, if there is only one person on duty.
It’s also required that gas stations post notifications stating whether refueling service is available and if there are certain times when it will not be offered during the day. However, if more than one person is working at the gas station—and the second employee is not exclusively involved in food preparation—regardless of posted refueling hours, the gas station must provide refueling assistance.

There are three types of individuals that call from gas stations, and I have broken them into sections below:

Refueling station owners: Owners call because they want to remain in compliance with the law and they want to understand it better.

People who have not received their right to refueling service: When someone calls because they went to a gas station and did not receive refueling services, they want to know what their rights are and they want to make a complaint. These complaints are made to their local district attorney’s office or with their local police department.

People who called the wrong number: People who think they are calling the corporate offices of Shell or the manager of their local gas station have the wrong number. They are usually either calling to say they got the wrong change back or that pump number three isn’t working.

What do you do if you are at a station that is noncompliant but are still need of refueling service?

One caller who recently was put in the situation of being low on fuel and at a station where she was being refused refueling services was diligent and resourceful in resolving this issue. Without enough gas to get home or to get to another station this person was in a situation that seemed hopeless. She called our information line, but since it was a weekend she left a message to find out how she could make a complaint, but she still needed gas to get home. This resourceful caller was able to call her local police department’s non-emergency line and talk to an officer about her situation. An officer was able to come out and help her get gas and also speak to the owner and employees of the station.

The situation described above is an extreme one, but it pays to be knowledgeable about your options and the resources available to you. Have you or someone you know ever been refused refueling services? How was the situation resolved? How many of you will now think of the AT Network every time you go to fill up your tank?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Does it really have to cost so much: Custom building an electronic magnifier.

By Luke Hsieh, Assistive Technology Advocate, Community Access Center, Riverside

When my supervisor saw the 13-year-old webcam that I have lying around my office, he asked me if I could turn it into an electronic magnifier using a Windows computer and USB port. The technology involved really isn't rocket science. Bierley is selling a USB based MonoMouse magnifier for approximately $200, so my response to him was, "Besides optical zooming and autofocus, the rest is just software." That statement effectively commenced the experimental project codenamed Webcam. (I told you it wasn't rocket science!)

My choice of webcam fell on the Logitech Webcam Pro 900, one of the higher end webcams that has a 4x optical zooming capacity and autofocus. It even comes with a Carl Zeiss lens and a built-in microphone. They sell for around $70 each.

The prototype was designed so the webcam would hang on a stand to be used as a CCTV. The problem with the prototype was that 4x optical zooming simply wasn't enough for it to function as a CCTV Magnifier and purchasing a battery powered digital camera with higher optical zooming capacity would cost $250.00 or more. (Merlin costs $2700.00 for a reason.)

I knew I wanted autofocus for a reason! All I had to do was bring the camera closer to the paper by wedging the camera into a circular lunchbox and poking a hole on the other side for the USB cable to go through. The prototype mimicked the Bierly Monomouse instead of the CCTV.

The next question was which software to use for color inversion. After trying out more than several trial versions, demo versions, and free versions of video software, I chose Debut Video Capture made by NCH Software, an Australian company, which costs approximately $39.

So the end bill for this exercise is $70 for the camera, $39 for the software and $2 for the lunchbox. Of course, if one has the money, it's better to buy professionally designed video magnifiers like Merlin, Jordy, Ruby, etc. However, this exercise does show how people with limited resources can build their own electronic magnifier with color inversion for a little more than $100.00.

Have you built your own assistive technology? Whether you have built a high- or low-tech device, we want to hear about it. Please share any of your tips or tricks in the comment section below.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Budget Committee Votes Down Caps on DME/AT Benefits!

The Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Health & Human Services just completed its action on the Governor’s May revision of the State budget. Both houses have rejected cuts proposed by the Governor which removes them from further consideration in this year’s budget. Among the items rejected were Medi-Cal caps on benefits including durable medical equipment, medical supplies such as wound dressings, incontinence products, & urinary catheters, hearing aids, and over the counter drugs.

We generated over 110 letters that let the legislators know how vital these benefits are to Californians with Disabilities. Your action, along with those of many other disabled Californians, their caregivers, friends and families helped convince the committee members that the proposed caps would be counter-productive and threaten the independence of many citizens.

Soon the Budget Conference Committee composed of 3 representatives from each house (2 democrats, 1 republican) will begin meeting to consider areas of differences between the 2 houses and possible solutions for dealing with CA’s continual financial crisis.

The battle to insure that vital services continue to be funded is not yet over. Please join us in thanking the members of the Health and Human Services Subcommittee for their support. Let them know we appreciate their efforts on behalf of Californians with disabilities.


Have you taken action? Let us know by posting a comment below.