High Impact with Low-Tech
Shepherd Center’s Leah Barid, OT/L, ATP, and Graylyn Jones, OTR/L, discuss how low-tech assistive technology makes a big difference in patients’ lives.
Amidst the rapid development of high-tech solutions, the importance of low-tech assistive technology (AT) is often overshadowed, especially in the ways it can facilitate returning to school or work. Leah Barid, OT/L, ATP, and Graylyn Jones, OTR/L, offer some insight into what low-tech AT options can help patients accomplish.
“Assistive technology is any device, item, piece of equipment, or program that helps people with disabilities achieve the highest level of independence possible,” says Jones.
“That can be as simple as a stylus or a rubber cabinet bumper that creates space between the top and bottom of a laptop so someone can open it,” adds Barid.
Low-tech assistive technology refers to devices and tools that do not rely heavily on complex electronic systems or computerized components. Instead, these solutions are simple, often inexpensive, and user-friendly, designed to cater to the unique needs of individuals with disabilities.
“We view innovation as continuous new learning and movement toward finding novel or widespread solutions to help our patients be more independent,” says Jones. “That doesn’t always mean making something new, but it can mean using something that already exists in a new way.”
One of the strengths of low-tech assistive technology lies in its simplicity. By avoiding the intricacies associated with high-tech gadgets, these devices often have a flatter learning curve, making them more accessible to a broader range of users.
"Low-tech items are easy to use, easy to set up, low-cost, and easy to get support for when our patients are back home, and we aren’t around to help,” says Barid. “Our most popular devices include cell phone mounts and a stylus. Technology like this helps people stay connected to the world, and it helps get people back to their life and occupation before injury.”
As therapists, Jones and Barid take time to learn more about their patients’ hobbies, jobs, and support systems. Then they leverage their clinical knowledge to determine which assistive technology is best suited for each individual. This process helps Shepherd therapists treat the whole person and can help patients realize what is possible after injury.
“When many patients visit us, they don’t bring their phones. They think, ‘I can’t use it, so why would I bring it.’ I always respond with ‘Give me 10 minutes,’” laughs Jones. “We are fortunate to have all of this technology with us in the lab so we can bring people in, and they can try out a device and see what it will be like when they go home.”
While Shepherd Center’s Access Technology Lab allows patients to test out existing equipment, there are times when the solution involves creating something new, like a mouth stick dock. Constructed out of a specially cut piece of PVC pipe, this innovation allows someone to pick up and put down a mouth stick, an assistive device that helps people with limited hand mobility to perform some daily activities without assistance, creating independence when interacting with touchscreen technology, pressing buttons, typing, drawing, and more.
“We are faced with problems every day where you think, ‘Well, there’s just no way to do that,’” says Barid. “Luckily, no one at Shepherd Center has ever muttered those words. So, you dive in, work with engineers, clinicians, researchers, and other innovators, and you make what you thought was impossible., It’s truly amazing what people can come up with.”
Written by Lindsey Rieben
Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.