Assistive Tech: Opening the Door for People with Disabilities

Since the Industrial Revolution, technology has transformed how we live, work and communicate. For people with disabilities, it has helped to improve or restore function while increasing independence at home and in the community.

Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation (BSWIR) – Dallas has long been at the forefront of therapeutic technological advancement. In 2018, the hospital launched a formal Assistive Technology Program designed to promote early device adoption. Led by Occupational Therapist Jill DeHamer and Rehabilitation Engineer Rex Moses, the program has enhanced patient engagement, improved functional independence and facilitated the transition to life ahead.

About the program

“This innovative program is an adjunct to the array of therapy services we provide, serving as a bridge from hospital to home,” said DeHamer. “We know patients want to maximize independence and regain control over their environment. They want to feel safe, comfortable and confident at home, work or in the community. Technology is making that happen.”

During their stay, patients may use robotics, virtual reality and other technology-based platforms in conjunction with evidence-based therapies to improve skills and function. DeHamer and Moses collaborate with the therapy and nursing teams to identify patients who could benefit from the assistive technology program, particularly those recovering from a stroke, brain injury, spinal cord injury or amputation or managing a progressive neurologic condition. The program is then tailored to the individual’s needs, functional abilities and rehabilitation goals. 

“Most patients today are familiar with smart phones and computers. Many also have a smart speaker, like Google or Amazon’s Alexa, at home. What they typically don’t realize is that these devices and other consumer electronics can be adapted or programmed to improve their independence and quality of life,” said Moses.


Opening new doors

Education is a key program component. With a large and ever-changing product inventory, the program team allows patients to trial various devices during their stay, from low-tech items, such as phone mounts or lap boards, to advanced tools like visual tracking and augmentative communication systems. Among the most popular are the endless variety of applications – “apps” – for phones, tablets and computers. These can be used to manage medications, better communicate with family and friends, and control environments, including opening doors, turning on lights and operating equipment.

“There is nothing better than entering a session with an individual, showing them the technology that’s available and leaving with them floored by the impact these small devices have on their quality of life, ” said DeHamer.

Keeping up with evolving technology is the biggest challenge. The team conducts extensive research and explores advances from companies such as Amazon, Apple, Google and Samsung, in addition to medical equipment developers. By introducing these apps and assistive devices, BSWIR continues to improve patient outcomes and literally helps open new doors to independence.


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