Paralysis tweaks: low cost, low tech AT solutions.

Posted by Michael Collins in Life After Paralysis on January 30, 2017 # Assistive Technology

Many of us who live with paralysis know there are related complications that frustrate our efforts to remain independent. Depending on the level of injury (which in my case is the C5-C7 vertebrae), there are often challenges when it comes to performing the Activities of Daily Living, such as staying hydrated and fed, when no one else is around. In those situations, assistive technology (AT) can be a great help.

Not all AT is expensive; I have multiple means of making up for some of my paralysis-related deficiencies through lower cost, and much lower tech, solutions. Most of the AT items that I rely on can be purchased for less than $30; many of them cost less than one dollar. They seldom fail, or need repair, as in most cases it is cheaper to replace them.

Being quadriplegic, I often drop things and have difficulty retrieving them since I cannot reach the floor or get out of my wheelchair. When that happens, I rely on a valuable piece of AT: a stick. My preferred "stick" is actually a wooden dowel that can be purchased in 4-foot lengths. Once a cup hook is screwed into the end of it, the dowel stick becomes a reliable method of picking things up. Shortened versions rest on the console of my van for adjusting hard to reach environmental or radio controls and near my mailbox for pulling the mail out where I can reach it; full length versions are strategically placed in the house.

For hydration, my solutions include a Camelbak pouch hanging on the back of my wheelchair and a water dispenser on the outside of my refrigerator door with a cup nearby. To keep my water consumption up at night, I purchase rolls of 7/16-inch plastic tubing and cut it to a length that extends from a jug of water sitting on the floor to a position next to my head on the bed. On the upper end, I add a bite valve from one of the hydration pack manufacturers (Camelbak, Platypus. etc.) to the tip so the water won't flow back into the jug between drinks.

My solutions for emergency lighting and to help find the television remote control or dial a phone number while in bed at night are stick-on Touch Lamps that can also be strategically located in hallways and rooms throughout the house in case the power goes out. I even have one mounted on the console of my van to help locate the vehicle's controls and ignition key slot before it is started at night.

Velcro is an essential type of AT in my life. Pieces of Velcro are glued to the bottom of my shoes and the foot supports of my wheelchair to keep my feet from falling off the chair during the day. Items on my desktop that I don't want to move during use, including an electric stapler and letter opener, are also adhered with Velcro.

he most expensive of my low tech solutions is the zippered folio that I carry on my lap when I'm in my wheelchair; it costs about $30 but serves many purposes, including security. I no longer worry that someone standing behind me on a crowded bus or commuter train could be digging through my backpack seeking something worth stealing. The folio eliminates that risk, as it contains my identification, list of emergency contacts, credit and membership cards, some cash, list of current medications, a pen, notepad and spare keys.

Items mounted on the portfolio's outside cover include my cellphone and the remote controls for my van and my home's front door opener. All of those items are adhered to the folio through the use of sticky Velcro tape so that they can be easily removed if necessary to change batteries or switch to a new portfolio. Non-skid material that is available in rolls for lining drawers is glued to the back of the folio so it does not slide off my lap when I stop suddenly.

None of the above items are complex or expensive, but they work for me. They have also helped me live independently for over 29 years, which is why I plan to rely on such low-tech AT for the future as well.

© 2017 Michael Collins

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.