More MS news articles for Nov 2001

New Technologies Can Mean Greater Access for People with Disabilities

Technology's Ups and Downs: Moving forward means access for all. WeMedia contributing editor for veterans affairs, Terry Moakley, examines how new technologies can mean greater access for people with disabilities.

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Nov 2001
By Terry Moakley

Two thoughts lingered while I was preparing this column: It would be best to put a face on technology -- and if the reader will indulge me, I'll use mine-- and disabled folks would be a lot better off if technology were more readily available to them.

The first 20 years of my disabled life were mostly "no-tech." The only examples of technology I recall from my late-1960s rehabilitation days at a V.A. hospital's spinal cord injury unit are the tilt table that was used to ensure I didn't faint when I sat in my wheelchair and the accelerator/brake hand controls that enabled me to drive my automobile. Both devices were strictly mechanical, but both clearly fostered my independence.

Then two events occurred in 1987, both related to technological advancements that dramatically changed my life. The first was when my V.A. hospital installed a lithotripter, a computer-controlled kidney-stone-crushing machine that utilizes sound waves to break up the stones, thus avoiding the need for invasive surgery. I had four surgeries to remove kidney stones before the lithotripter's arrival, and I've since undergone five procedures using it. Without the availability of this treatment, I would either be a dialysis patient or possibly dead. Simply put, technology has probably extended my life.

The second event was the purchase of my first wheelchair-lift-equipped van. I was in my mid-40s in 1987, and I was starting to slow down. Transferring from my wheelchair to my automobile several times a day was becoming difficult. So I bit the bullet and laid out the money for the van. From day one, it made my life easier. I'm now on my fourth van, and I can vouch that the lift technology has improved greatly. The vehicle itself requires more frequent repairs than the equipment that makes it accessible. Technology has given me greater independence.

And then there's the workplace. I freely admit to being dragged, kicking and screaming, to my computer. Initially, I was afraid of it. Now, I communicate each day via e-mail, and I conduct almost all of my job-related research on the Internet. I'm also in the process of learning my new voice-recognition software--amazing stuff! Technology has allowed me to be a more productive employee.

But there is a downside to the technological revolution that our society needs to address. The high number of seriously disabled persons who are unemployed is strikingly similar to the percentage of the disabled population who do not have access to today's technology. I even see problems in the V.A. system. For example, some veterans, like me, are eligible to receive funding from the V.A. for the high-tech equipment that makes a van wheelchair accessible. However, this program does not apply to veterans who incurred their disabilities after military discharge.

I've read a great deal in recent years about the potential of technology to improve the lives of people with disabilities. It has clearly improved my life. Now, our society must summon the will to make the new technology available to all disabled persons who would benefit from it.
 

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