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Enabling Seniors to Live Independently

Editor's Note: The following article is reprinted from the National Organization on Disability's website and is dated July 1, 2005.

As we age, assistive technology will play more of a role in our lives than in the lives of our parents. Living safely, independently and comfortably are important to us and technology can assist us in these areas.

To provide a safe home environment for a person with low vision, poor manual dexterity or difficulty remembering, there are monitoring products that can turn off devices that have been on too long, can emit warning alerts, measure temperatures, watch for movements in a room and activate switches. Privacy is important, but where alerts are triggered, cameras can help relatives or care professionals to communicate and respond.

Help systems can activate reminders, control heating and entertainment systems and many other devices that will enable people needing care to live independently and yet feel safe and in touch.

Sixty-nine-year-old, visually impaired widower Jonathan Boyd has programmed his kitchen to help him maintain a "desirable quality of life." "The screen on my help system reads my messages for the day. And when need be, I can contact my friends and relatives for assistance."

Boyd invested several thousand dollars to program his house. Boyd has a telephone that responds to voice commands and so when he says, "Peggy," the telephone automatically dials his daughter's office.

Boyd lives in a rural area and is investigating the smart house and telecare and telemedicine in rural areas. He wants to be sure that living in a rural area does not prevent him from having immediate access to health care. For example, Boyd has high blood pressure, and he needs to check it daily.

"I am investigating how monitoring devices can transmit information to my doctor's office if my blood pressure level is rising. If a problem occurs, my doctor can respond quickly. A quick response could save my life," says Boyd.

The concept of monitoring raises a number of ethical and legal issues. Any monitoring system should only be implemented with the full agreement of all parties involved, including relatives.

Boyd is not alone in using technology to give him a peace of mind. Seventy-four-year-old Marilyn Horne, a former medical technician, says, "I am worried about being alone and losing control of my life and so I have become an investigative sleuth in the technology area."

A diabetic, she has a talking glucose monitor, a talking computer to help her read, and a voice activated program that will turn appliances on and off on command. Pressure sensitive switches turn the lights on and off in her kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and living room.

Was she afraid of using computers at her age? "No," she says with a laugh. She's used computers for 24 years. She uses her laptop to watch movies and to listen to songs.

Mobility is important to her. She does not drive anymore. Instead, she takes public transportation, taxis or her children pick her up for shopping and pleasure events. When she goes to movies or plays, like Boyd, Horne asks for Assistive Listening Devices.

How does her family view her use of technology? Horne's daughter Emily Cressey says, "Mom has become a rabid fan of technology to maintain her quality of life. We are proud of her. She is trend setting for my brother and me when we are her age."

When doing business with the bank, Horne uses a Talking ATM and receives her bank statements in large print.

Horne estimates she has spent close to $2,500 from her savings for her technology. She firmly believes the investment is worth it. "I still control my life. As long as I can, I want to live," she says.

Useful Assistive Technology Resources for seniors


SeniorNet is a non-profit organization of computer-using adults, age 50 and older, whose mission is to provide these older adults education for and access to computer technologies to enhance their lives and enable them to share their knowledge and wisdom. SeniorNet supports over 204 Learning Centers throughout the country, and provides online opportunities for learning and discussion amongst older adults.

American Foundation for the Blind

The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to ensure that the ten million Americans who are blind or visually impaired enjoy the same rights and opportunities as other citizens. AFB promotes wide-ranging, systemic change by addressing the most critical issues facing the growing blind and visually impaired population--employment, independent living, literacy and technology.

Their technology web page has information on assistive technology, web accessibility, electronic books, how to get an accessible telephone, buying a computer. It also has screen reader tips, and tips for computer users with low vision.

Telecommunications for the Deaf, Inc.

TDI (also known as Telecommunications for the Deaf, Inc.) was established in 1968 originally to promote further distribution of TTYs in the deaf community and to publish an annual national directory of TTY numbers. Today, it is an active national advocacy organization focusing its energies and resources to address equal access issues in telecommunications and media for four constituencies in deafness and hearing loss, specifically people who are deaf, hard-of-hearing, late-deafened or deaf-blind.

Their Telecommunications Access web page provides information on wireless telecommunication devices, internet relay services options, TDD & TTY modem and software manufacturers, and video relay services options.

CTC Foundation

At this website, one can order the directory Assistive Technologies: Creating a Universe of Opportunities for People with Disabilities. This directory lists hundreds of assistive technology manufacturers in the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia. Employers, educators and rehabilitation workers looking for information on products benefiting speech impaired, blind, visually impaired, deaf, hearing impaired, physically challenged and mobility challenged individuals will discover it in the book.

Additional contents include: summaries of federal legislation passed on disability issues; an overview on the status of assistive technology today; key Supreme Court decisions on the Americans with Disabilities Act; 12 columns by author John M. Williams; articles by IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, Deque, Kurzweil and their philosophies behind accessibility policies; and definitions of assistive technology terms.

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