Thursday, December 22, 2011

We all live. . .

I think one of my favorite Beatles songs is "Yellow Submarine." It also has to be one of my favorite Beatles movies. 

Something about those blue meanies that just makes me laugh. 

Well, now you can also read it as an interactive ebook experience on the iPad. The ebook version of Yellow Submarine is now available as a free download on iTunes, and its pretty cool.
The reader can choose to either read the story herself or she can let the book read itself. As it reads, the word being read is highlighted when it is spoken. Page turning is the typical e-reader swipe. There are video clips and songs from the movie that will have you or your inner child singing along. This ebook is better put together than some pay products. A lot of time and care went into making it. Check it out for yourself by checking out the announcement on The Beatles web site.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Zen and the Art of Successful AT Transitions

Here's a little piece I wrote for a newsletter for work a few years ago. Because the topic is one that I think still needs discussion, I thought I'd bring it back and share it with you all here. Please give me your feedback on it!

It’s Susie’s first day at the Xavier School.  All of Susie’s teachers and therapists, as well as Susie’s parents, have been working hard for years to get her ready for this day.  Her power wheelchair is charged, her communication device is charged, and the back-up power converter allowing it to run on the power wheelchair batteries is working and connected.  Her backpack with medications, ADL equipment, and personal supplies is mounted to the back of the chair.  Susie wished that Melanie, her assistant for the past five years, was coming with her, but, unfortunately, that wasn’t possible.  Still, Susie was excited about her new school and about making new friends.

Susie’s parents arrived at the principal’s office 30 minutes after they had been called to take Susie home.  Their daughter was in the nurse’s office crying, obviously very upset, yet she did not respond to questions. All she could say was “what.” This was odd because she was a pro with her communication device. Her mother noticed that the symbol library on the tablet was gone.  Instead, a QWERTY keyboard with a word prediction window was in its place.  The low battery light flashed just before the device shut down.  Her father reconnected the back-up power converter, which had been unplugged.  With power restored, Susie’s father loaded her communication symbol set.  Her mom filled Susie’s portable water pack at the sink and clipped Susie’s sip straw to her shirt so she could easily reach the straw for a much needed drink.  After two button pushes, Susie began her tale. “I had a bad day…”

I’m sure that we have all heard similar stories of unsuccessful and problematic transitions from one school to another.  I’m sure that we’ve even heard of challenging transitions within the same facility due to internal changes.  A person’s support staff leaves and a new one joins the team. A teacher retires and a new one comes on board. Therapy staff changes or therapy times change. Sometimes, it’s all of these things happening at once. The simple fact is successful transition requires a transfer of information from one group of service providers and support staff to another. One of the things that makes equipment transitions so important is that there are so many of them.  In schools, they occur when a student gets a new teacher or a new paraprofessional.  They can also occur when a student is transitioned into a different educational environment, at the end of the school year, or if the student changes schools for any reason.  In the community, they can occur when an individual changes support staff, facilities, and/or programs.  Whenever new people are, those new people are likely to need instruction on the particulars of an individual’s AT use. 

As transitions are inevitable, we can and should prepare for them as best we can.  Without such planning, we jeopardize the efficiency of the transition process, and we risk causing undue stress and hardship on the person using the AT. The equipment may not be complete or may not be working properly.  Problems with equipment ownership may arise if an item’s history has not been documented.  The new staff may not know how to operate the equipment or how the individual uses the equipment.  All of these problems—or even one of them—is enough to cause big headaches for everyone.  The key to preventing these problems, or at least minimizing their destructive effects, is the successful transmission of AT information between service teams.

In the beginning. . .
As with most things, preparation is the key.  Assistive technology should be an explicit element of transition planning, and a transition plan should provide adequate information about the AT and its use. It should also identify those who will facilitate transition of the equipment from one setting/situation to another. The team might include the AT user, teachers, therapists, paraprofessionals, resource specialists, AT specialists, parents, and administrators. Although this list is by no means comprehensive, it suggests several people who are likely to play a part in AT transitions.

The thing to keep in mind when forming the transition team is that each member needs to have a clearly defined role that is understood and accepted by all members. The team should also have a leader or coordinator who will keep the process moving along on schedule and according to the established timeline. The leader should also monitor the transition to determine whether the supports following the transition are adequate to meet the AT user’s needs.

Follow the yellow brick road!

Success Red Arrow by renjith krishnan /
The timeline for the transfer of equipment should include all appropriate milestones and deadlines.  This way, team members will have a clear sense of how their responsibilities contribute to the overall objectives.  Here are some points to keep in mind when developing a timeline:

Be sure to describe all steps in the transition of equipment from one environment to another. This provides a “heads up” for all involved, and enables revision to the plan in advance if necessary.

Give plenty of time for successful information gathering.  Most service providers have a multitude of responsibilities, and cannot ignore other duties just because they receive a last-minute request. With adequate advance notice, team members will be able to compile information enabling the new team to become familiar with the AT and the user’s needs.

Create milestones.  Schedule meetings around the milestones to make sure that everything is going as planned.  If someone is having a problem gathering information or completing some other task, the group can troubleshoot or revise the plan.  Not all meetings need to be conducted face-to-face; email can facilitate effective and efficient “virtual” meetings. The important thing is to keep the team informed.

By following a transition plan complete with time lines, even the complex equipment transfers can be accomplished with minimal disruption for the AT user.

It’s not who you know, but what you know

Because a successful transition depends on accurate transfer of information, the team will need to generate documentation about each device if no previous record exists.  Important information might include an item’s purchase history, repair history, and cleaning and maintenance schedule.  This will tell the new team who purchased and owns the device as well as who is responsible for its maintenance. Maintenance information should also specify any special procedures that must be followed if the device requires service.  For example, does the device need to be returned to the manufacturer for service, or can it go to a local service center?  Are there special shipping instructions or a certain department within the manufacturing company that must be consulted?  Is there an associated cost for cleaning and repairs?  If so, who pays, and what is the payment procedure? 

In addition, the team needs to learn the item’s usage history.  This describes who initiated the use of the equipment, when and how it is used, and who is trained to use it.  It is also important to know if the item is part of an individual’s IEP or treatment plan, as this will provide additional insight into how the equipment is intended to support the user. If the team finds that the item is no longer accomplishing its intended purpose, the treatment plan will need to be updated to reflect any change in implementation. 

If an individual’s AT includes software with customized user settings, those need to be documented and sent with the user.  Otherwise, the work that went in to tailoring a piece of software for a specific user will be lost, and someone will have to undertake the customization process all over again.

An ounce of prevention

A successful equipment transfer is possible with thorough planning and preparation.  While it takes work to gather the necessary information, advanced planning saves time and aggravation in the long run. Perhaps the best way to keep transition preparation from becoming overwhelming is to maintain up-to-date documentation on equipment history and use.  As a consumer’s equipment is serviced or changed, make sure that the circumstances are documented.  Transitions are inevitable; the goal should be to make the transfer of equipment as efficient for all members of the team as possible. 

Friday, December 9, 2011

Remodeling Time!

OK so it's a little more than just remodeling. I've decided that I need to re-purpose this space to include more than AT bargains. There is and always will be a spot here for those fantastic little finds and great blockbuster deals, but I also want a place to more freely discuss happenings in the world of assistive technology. 

I hope you enjoy some of the changes made and some of the changes to come. As always, your feedback is welcome and appreciated!

Monday, November 28, 2011

CyberMonday Deal Not To Miss!

I just saw a note from LiveScribe, makers of the Pulse and Echo Smartpens. For two days only, you can get the 8 GB smart pen which normally costs $179.95 for $99.95! Yep, that's a good $80 savings. It's for a limited time only though. You have to buy it today or tomorrow (Nov. 28-29). Apparently, as a bonus, LiveScribe is throwing in a free one-year subscription to Evernote Premium if you buy before Jan. 31, 2012. That is one heck of a deal!

If you've never used a Smartpen, they're pretty fantastic little devices. They have built-in digital audio recorders and a little camera that tracks the position of the pen on the paper. You can use this pen to take notes during classes, meetings, or anywhere where you need to "remember" key information and you typically take notes to help. Once that activity is over and you're going over your notes, you can start playback of the recording and listen to the activity.

Here's where it gets slick.

You can tap the notepad on the word, symbol, doodle, or whatever you were writing at that time in the recording, and the recording will jump to exactly that spot and start playback from there. It's a little difficult to describe it, so through the glory of YouTube, I bring you a video!

If you think this can help you or someone you kinda care about keep track of things, you may want to strike while the iron is hot! To find out more click here. Never used Evernote? Well, click here and watch a little video that will introduce you (keep your eyes open for another installment of the Assistive Technology Bargain Basement blog to see a round-up of Evernote and some similar tools).

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Cordless Phone That Talks

I was sent this little gem by my friend Dan. It's actually quite a nice deal. It's a cordless phone. I know right? Cool!

Awesome. Just so awesome.

Ok, so maybe on the surface it doesn't seem too incredible, but it is. This phone has talking caller ID. Yes, you read correctly. Talking Caller ID! When you get a call on this phone, it will say "Call from. . . " and then say the number that is calling you. If you take the time and add people to the on-phone phone book, it will say their name. Yes, actually say their name! How cool is that? The base unit will talk, and if you have a handset with you, you can program it to talk and do the voice announce of the call. 

Now how much is it? Well, I found this baby on Amazon for $54.99, but you can also get it at Office Depot for about $67.95 or for about $57.94 including shipping and handling. Not a bad price considering what it can do. Oh yeah, there's also the digital answering machine it has which is also nice. 

Thanks to Dan for bringing us this great find!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Easy Grooming Bargain

I wrestled a little bit with this post. I did. When I first saw this bargain, I knew that it was a real gem, especially for the price. Then I started to type and I kept thinking, "Marvin, it's only nail clippers. What's the big deal?" So I guess that's what you could say about most every kind of AT, especially the bargain stuff. Yeah it may be something small, but it's something big to someone else because it helps them accomplish what they could not otherwise. So I guess I should fall back to the "old standard"-- It's the AT Bargain Basement, not the AT Bargain Judgement. 

So with that out of the way, let me tell you about the object of my musings. Here it is.

I know right? What's the big deal? Just nail clippers! Ok, so lighted nail clippers with a magnifying glass. That's the big deal if you have a visual impairment. These babies not only magnify where you're cutting but they also shine a little light on the subject, making it much easier to see. How much does it cost? That's the tricky part. After some looking, I've found these babies all over the place for a wide range of prices. I've seen them at K-Mart for around $10 and I've seen them online for about that or two for $10. However, when I walked into the Big Lots in New Castle just off of Basin Road, I saw them listen for $2! That's right! $2! Don't believe me? Well check out this little shot from my phone.
Yep, there you see it $2.00 right there! I'm not sure how many they have left, so if this looks like something you want, you'd better get down to Big Lots and get one.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Such a good bargain!

Looky at what I found!

Know what it is? 

Maybe this will help. No? OK one more. . . 

It's the 350T Analog TENs unit from ReliaMed. I saw two of these babies brand-spankin' new at the Goodwill Medical Equipment shop in Wilmington. While I don't have a price to report, Jason Burns, the shop's manager said that he was looking at pricing the units somewhere between $30 and $40. If you've got chronic back pain, knee pain, or chronic localized muscle pain, you probably know exactly what these babies can do. If you don't, check out this video:

What Is a TENS Unit? -- powered by ehow

There were only two of them so if you're interested, give Jason a call or stop on in the Goodwill Medical Equipment store and see if you can still pick one up. They have a lot of great deals there so if you're looking for a hospital bed, wheelchair, cane, walker, lost ark of the covenant, TENs unit, oxygen concentrator, Maltese Falcon, or peak-flow meter, stop on in and see what they've got. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Amplified Phones

I am in love with a phone. It's the Uniden D2998 amplified telephone. It's a real gem. Looks great and is jam-packed with features. It's one of those rare "regular looking" amplified phones that actually packs some power. Uniden lists it as giving a 30 dB volume boost which is a pretty good boost. Other features include (from their website) :

  • DECT 6.0 Interference Free Cordless Telephone
  • Corded Handset
  • 14 Minutes of Digital Recording TimeDigital Answering System
  • Amplified Audio Boost (+30 Decibels)Visual Ringer on Handset & Base
  • Do Not Disturb (DND) Mode
  • Caller ID/Call Waiting (To Activate the Caller ID Features, You Must Subscribe Through Your Telephone Company.)
  • Caller ID Announce (tm) from Handset
  • Adjustable Playback Speed
  • Modern Big Button Design
  • Advanced Phonebook Features 70 Names / Numbers
  • 30 Name/Number CID Memory
  • Last 5 Number Redial
  • Handset Speakerphone
  • Backlit LCD display with large font sizes
  • Expandable - Register 6 Handsets to 1 Base
  • 3-Way Conferencing (2 Handsets + Outside Call)
  • Headset Compatible
  • Wall Mountable*
  • T-Coil Friendly (TIA1083)
  • Hearing Aid Compatible
  • 7 Day Standby
  • Voice Mail Waiting Indicator light
  • Rechargeable NiMH Battery Pack
  • Maximum Voice Security
  • Wireless Network Friendly
  • Trilingual Menu Displays and Voice Prompts

One of the real deal-makers with this phone is the adjustable playback speed on the answering machine. This is a winner, especially for someone with a hearing loss. Not only can you hear the message a bit louder, but you can also slow it down to make sure you get everything being said. Can't beat that with a stick!

And then we get to the price. . . 

This phone is available directly from Uniden for the low, low price of $85, $97 with shipping and handling. Now that's for a brand new unit. Suppose you're OK with getting factory re-furbished stuff? Well, you can get a refurbished one for $69, $81 with shipping again. I know, I know, you're thinking, "Marvin, it's used stuff. How can it be any good?" I look to see if stuff is factory refurbished or not and even within that, I look to see what the retailer says that means. We won't go into particulars. That's another post.

Did I mention that price was for 2 phones? Yep, you read correctly 2 phones! You get  a corded phone as well as a cordless model. The talking caller id only works with the corded main unit, but it's still nice to have that available. The cordless add-on phone is also an amplified phone so you don't have to sacrifice volume for mobility. If the one cordless handset is not enough, you can expand this unit by buying additional handsets.

By all means this isn't the only amplified phone out there, but I was a bit impressed by it's functionality given it comes from Uniden, a name I typically don't associate with amplified phones. With products like these, I may have to start!

Uniden D2998 Telephone

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Staying in Touch: UPDATE!

I forgot to include webinars in my post about staying current. Keeping in mind with that is this gem. I just found out about this promising looking class from AbleNet. Titled, "Assistive Technology Throughout the Rehabilitation Process." It's a three-part series that looks at AT for different age ranges. It looks like it will be a good class and with a price tag of free, you can't beat it. If you're like me and need RESNA CEU's, you can apply for those too. Here's the link for more information and to register:

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Staying in Touch

One of the questions I often get is, "What is the deal with baking cakes in jars?" Well, it's just something neat I thought I would do for my daughter for her birthday. Truth is, I got the idea from a food blog I subscribe to. I showed my daughter and her face lit up. How could I not do it for her birthday? She loved the sand art effect. The sprinkles were her "signature touch." Her friends loved it to so win-win.

Another question I get involves how I stay current with assistive technology and the many developments in the AT world. It's not easy, but it's not impossibly complicated. Conferences are very handy for getting to actually see and play with everything. Conferences can serve as intensive training sessions. You can learn about something new, learn more about something you already knew a little about, or get a refresher on something you know but haven't dealt with in a while. They also give you a chance to meet like-minded sailors on the seas of AT! Some noteworthy AT conferences include Closing the Gap, CSUN International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference, RESNA International Conference, and ATIA (Assistive Technology Industry Association) conferences in Orlando and Chicago.

The bad thing about conferences is that they can be costly to attend. Between airfare, hotel, and conference fees, a conference can be a very expensive proposition. So another way I like to stay in touch with the developing world of assistive technology is by using blogs and podcasts. Blogs and podcasts allow you to get a wealth of information without attending costly conferences. My favorite AT blog and podcast, besides the Bargain Basement, is the A.T. TIPScast by Chris Bugaj. "A.T. TIPS" stands for Assistive Technology Tools In Public Schools so it focuses on AT for the educational setting. However, many of the tips are useful in other environments. Chris does a great job with both the blog and the podcast, keeping them very informative and even, dare I say it, FUN! The podcast episodes are nice and small "bite sized" information packets, giving you a quick AT info snack that's guaranteed to make you think and wanting to come back for more! The blog provides great support to the podcast, providing links to sites and information mentioned in the podcast. You can subscribe to the podcast from iTunes or using your favorite podcast manager. You can also listen to the episodes directly from the blog site If you're trying to broaden your AT horizons, you can't go wrong with the A.T. TIPScast.

So you need some other options for keeping current on what's new in AT Land? Well, you can always check out the Assistive Technology Blog put together by the Virginia Department of Education's Training and Technical Assistance Center at Virginia Commonwealth University. It's got a lot of valuable information regarding different pieces of AT as well and issues brewing in the AT community, like the currently burning iPad debates

A great resource for information and Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology Service (QIAT) website and e-mail list serve. I"m also a member of this list serve, and it's one of the only ones I have the patience to go through thoroughly. The discussions are always very informative and wide-ranging on topics from alternative access to print in schools to the use of auditory prompt devices for adults in the community. It's also a great place to ask AT-related questions and actually get them answered. The group is made up of a veritable who's who in assistive technology. Plus, they're just a great group of folks. I had the pleasure of meeting up with a bunch of members at the CSUN Conference in 2010. I had a great time and look forward to hanging out with them again. 

Numerous AT groups on Facebook, Yahoo, Google, and Linkedin also provide a good means of staying current and of participating in discussions of practices and products. If you use Twitter, you can follow most of the major AT manufacturers as well as different people in the field to see what they're talking about, finding, trying, loving. You can also follow Charlie Sheen if you want to see who's "winning." You can also follow me on Twitter @mwilliamsAT if you are so inclined. 

The options are numerous and the sea of information is quite vast. the key is to hang on to the good information sources once you find them, tell the creators that you like the information, and share that resource with everyone. It's one of the best ways to keep the community strong, vibrant, and growing. 

What are some of your info sources? 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Loud and Clear

I was working with someone this past week who needed a voice amplification system for a telephone. The problem was not the typical issue of not being able to hear the caller. Instead, the problem was that the person needing the amplification system had a very soft voice. The temporary solution we came up with involved using the telephone on speaker phone and the individual using a personal voice amplification system. The system used was the Reizen Speak N Hear. The unit is pretty nice. It's fairly comparable to the more expensive Chatter Vox system at a fraction of the cost. To use the Speak N Hear, simply use the microphone headset that comes with the unit or a microphone of your choosing and adjust the volume to meet your needs. The unit can get pretty loud, so you should exercise some caution when turning up the volume. Also, you can experience considerable feedback if you're not careful. Just remember to keep the speaker as far as possible from the microphone. 

The really great thing about this bargain is that it's a super bargain. I have one of these in the office, and we paid about $100 for it. Now, you can buy it from Maxi Aids for all of $24.95 + shipping and handling! That's a big difference in price. I'm pretty sure the shipping won't be and additional $24.95, so that's a nice big price drop. So if voice amplification is something you're looking into, the Reizen Speak N Hear is a great bargain to check out.
Reizen Speak N Hear voice amplification system

Monday, May 16, 2011

Understanding The Process Round-up!

Hi folks!

I was looking at the blog here and realized it could be a little difficult to find all of the pieces of the "Understanding The Process" series. So in the interests of making things easy to navigate, I present to you the "Understanding The Process Round-up!"

Part 1-- Seeing your doctor
Part 2-- Getting an equipment evaluation
Part 3-- Choosing your equipment
Part 4-- Funding or paying for your equipment

I'm considering having additional addenda to this series that look at "The Process" in the public school system and the workplace. If you'd like to see either of these, let me know!


Monday, April 25, 2011

Understanding "The Process" (Part 4)

So as a quick recap of the series so far, in Part 1, we talked about the importance of discussing AT with your doctor. In Part 2, we talked about getting an AT evaluation by a therapist; and Part 3 was about choosing your particular equipment with a vendor. So that was it right? I mean what else is there after you get the equipment? Wait, what do you mean it was denied? But you need it? Isn't it obvious? What's not to get? You need your AT and they denied it! But who could be so . . . so cruel?

Well, just when you thought it was safe to get back in the water, I'm here to talk to you about funding your AT.

Often times when people try to get AT, they get denied for many reasons. The problem is most people don't ever ask that very important question, "Why?" Instead, they figure that the equipment was denied and that they should abandon all hope of getting anything from their funding source. Unfortunately, we often fill in the reasons. Maybe we were told that a certain funding source never covers what we're asking for. Maybe it's because we got something different last year? Maybe it was the wrong color? Wrong type? Wrong manufacturer? It could be anything. We don't know until we ask, and you not only can but should ask.

First, let's start with a little terminology. When I speak of funding, I'm talking about the resources for purchasing your AT. That can be private insurance (Blue Cross, Humana, United Healthcare, Tricare, Aetna, and many, many others), public insurance (Medicare which is run by the federal government or Medicaid which is run by the state), private pay (money from your or some other individual or non-insurance group), or any combination of those three. So you could have Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance, AND still need to private pay for some of your care. Whatever your funding source is you need to understand your rights and obligations and those of your insurer. Also, it's important to determine who is the primary payer. That's the first payer responsible to pay for stuff. Usually, the primary funding source is the first funding source you have. A little confusing? Well, let's consider Bob. He's got Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance. First, he had Medicaid and then he purchased a small supplemental private policy through AARP when he was 60. When he hit 65, he was eligible for Medicare. Because of the order of his having insurance, Medicaid is his primary funding source followed by his private insurance and then Medicare.

Why is this important? Well, when you consider that all of your funding sources know about each other, they may deny a claim simply because you submitted "out of order." If this happens, it doesn't mean the claim is dead. It just means it needs to be submitted to the primary funding source first an then the others down the line. So when you are giving information to your doctors, therapists, and the equipment vendor, make sure you include every funding source you have and their "pay order." If you're still not sure, you may want to contact each funding source and see who they recognize as the primary funding source. Don't be surprised if they are pointing fingers at each other. It's not subterfuge, it could be honest confusion as to who the primary is on their part. Still, they can help you figure out who the primary is even as they're figuring it out.

Second, each funding source has its own guidelines for requesting "stuff." That stuff can be a procedure, therapy, or AT. Are there certain forms that must be completed by certain individuals? Do you have to have forms completed and submitted with an accompanying doctor's prescription? Here is where things usually get complicated or at least difficult. You need to find out just what your funding source's "secret handshake" is in order for you to get your stuff. The good news is you can usually easily find out just what these requirements are. Typically they aren't considered hidden or state secrets kept next to the Kennedy Files. Usually, they're stated in black and white in your own policy or the procedural guidelines for the funding source. So that's the good news. The bad news is that you have to go find this out, especially if neither your therapist nor the equipment vendor has worked with your funding source previously. Still, for your own knowledge, it's best to know what the requirements are for you to get equipment paid for by your insurance. Make sure that you contact your insurance company for this, and when you do, make sure you have your policy number so that they can get you the information specific to your policy.

Third, if your request is denied, appeal, appeal, appeal! Most every funding source has an appeal process. Get to know it, make friends with it. Have it over for buttered scones and tea. Typically, when a claim is denied, it's denied for a reason. Perhaps there wasn't enough information about the prognosis given. Perhaps it's an insufficient justification of the equipment. Perhaps not enough equipment was tried. The only way to know is to check the letter of denial. Yep, folks, verbal denials don't cut it. You need a letter of denial. See, it's in that letter that you'll see exactly why you can't pass Go and collect $200 your request was denied. The problem with appealing denied requests is that the appeals process can take a lot of time. You just have to hang in there and not give up. It's only through persistence that you can win the day.

Another helpful entity to keep in mind when navigating your private insurance is your state insurance commissioner. The insurance commissioner can help you if you think your insurance company isn't following the terms of your policy. The insurance commissioner can't really help you with problems involving Medicare and Medicaid, but if you have private insurance, they're good people to know. If you're in Delaware, the insurance commissioner is KarenWeldin Stewart. A link her web page is here. If you are not from Delaware and would like to know how to contact your state's insurance commissioner's office, you can get that information from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC).

I do sincerely hope this has been helpful for you. Please feel free to post any questions you may have and I'll try to answer them as best and completely as possible.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Here Comes CSUN and I Say It's All right!

I was fortunate enough to go to beautiful San Diego for the CSUN International Conference on Disability earlier this month. It's been a great trip, a great conference, and I have found some great bargains in the exhibit halls.

I spent quite a bit of time with Jason Dean Neeland with LS&S. If you don't know LS&S, they are a great company for AT. He showed me a few products LS&S carries that are just real serious AT bargains. So what kind of host would I be if I didn't bring you all info on those items?

The first thing he showed me was the Recordable Talking Alarm Clock-Pill Reminder. He called the unit the "Medi-Minder," but you can find it on their website and in their catalog as the recordable talking alarm clock-pill reminder. This is one slick clock. 

The voice on the clock is also nice and clear. It's a female voice (male voice isn't available), so if that works for you, you're set. The great thing about this clock is that it has 6 different alarms you can set. You can use these for medication times, timed prompts for activities, or whatever you want. Along with the alarms, you can record personalized, individualized messages for each alarm. So you could have a personalized alarm that reminds you to take a particular medicine at a particular time or perform a particular task at a given time. The unit is highly portable so you can take it anywhere. The unit takes batteries, but it also can use an AC adapter so it can be plugged into the wall for power. This AT bargain is a steal at $39.95 (shipping not included). If you want the AC adapter, it will cost you an additional $5.95. After having a chance to check out and play with this baby, I highly recommend it if you're in the market for a talking clock with multiple alarms. You can order the unit from LS&S.

The next nifty gadget Jason showed me was Wilson. No not a volleyball with a hand print on it, but its namesake. The Wilson is a personal voice recorder. It has two-and-a half or five hours of recording/playback time. Yes, you can double the recording time by simply flipping a switch. It's just that easy. Why the choice? It's a matter of recording quality. If you want a higher quality recording, go with the 2.5 hour setting. Need less quality but more time? The 5 hour setting is for you.

Another nifty thing about this device is that it has a very simple interface. There's only three buttons for the controls (besides the recording time, but since that's a switch not a button, we won't count it)-- one for recording messages, one for playing and pausing messages, and one for deleting messages. That's it. So if you're usually lost in the sea of buttons on most recorders, this may be one for you. It even offers a USB port so you can connect Wilson to the computer and save your messages. At only $36.95 (shipping not included), it's a pretty neat little bargain.

Conferences are usually good places to go to find show specials and other bargains, especially if exhibit hall is open free to the public. In the exhibit halls, you can test drive much of the latest and greatest in assistive technology. While not everything is $100 or less, it's still a great place to check out lots of AT, especially if you haven't seen a lot before.

If you're in the San Diego area next year and you have some time, make a point to attend the CSUN International Conference on Disability. You'll be glad you did. And while you're there, make sure you stop in and try the ribs and chicken at Phil's BBQ in Point Loma.
Bring your appetite because the eats are incredible!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Understanding "The Process" (Part 3)

Ok, so now you've talked to the doctor who agrees you can use some assistive technology (Understanding the Process Part 1) AND you've seen a licensed therapist for an evaluation for your technology (Understanding the Process Part 2). What happens next? Well, now it's time to pick your tech! Now, you're not gonna be left to your own devices. Your device selection will most likely be guided by the therapist who evaluated you and a durable medical equipment (DME) provider or salesperson. The salesperson may need to take your body measurements for AT like wheelchairs, walkers, canes, standers, and the like. You may also get the chance to pick the color of your AT, if it comes in different colors. You should ask all sorts of questions now-- What does it look like? How do I take care of it? Can I fit it in my house? How am I getting this up the stairs? How am I going to fit through the front door? How am I going to transport it? These are all questions that a good DME provider will help you answer. If you can, try to make a list of questions you may still have about the equipment. Now's the time to get them answered before everything starts showing up. Also, if part of the equipment request needs to be changed, this is the best time to do that.

Once the equipment has been chosen and everyone's happy with the recommendations, the therapist may write a Letter of Medical Necessity, or LMN. This is a very important part of the equipment request that's submitted to the funding source. It explains why you need the equipment, what benefit you'll get from it, what problems you have not using it, and how long you're expecting to use it. You should request a copy of the LMN for your records.

Once the LMN is sent to the funding source, along with the equipment quote from the DME provider, the waiting game begins. The funding source can approve the request, request additional information (not approved or denied but limbo), or deny the request. Now here's the tough part-- the response (approval, request for more info, or denial) should come in writing. It should. Doesn't mean it will. If you don't get a letter, you should contact your funding source for one (we'll talk about the importance of a case manager in another post). That's where, if you received a denial or a request for more info, you'll be given more particulars about why there is a hold-up in the request. Once you know this, you can get your team to help you fix it, if you can. If the equipment is denied because it's not a covered benefit or if what you're asking for is beyond your eligible benefits, you may need alternative funding (we'll talk about that later too).

One thing that's very important to keep in mind is that if you get a denial, you should always, always, always appeal it. If the LMN is sound with good justification for the requested equipment, you may not need to do much to win your appeal. However, in some instances, you or your therapist my need to provide additional information to support your claim.

Hopefully, you'll get an approval and there will be laughter and merriment throughout all the land! The DME provider will then deliver and fit the equipment and you will finally have your assistive technology!

Is that the end? Nope! When you schedule your delivery appointment, you should also schedule a follow-up appointment with the therapist you've been working with to get the equipment. During this follow-up appointment, the therapist can make sure all of the equipment fits properly and/or is functioning properly. This is important because if there is a problem with the prescribed equipment, the therapist can make note and see if any necessary changes can be made. This is a step most people forget and it's very important. You should try to schedule a follow-up appointment within 3 weeks of getting your equipment. Also, make sure you give your doctor's office a call to let them know you have your equipment. She may want to see you later with your equipment to see how you're doing.

There are still a lot of little things I didn't go over in "The Process," but this gives you the 3 basic steps to it. In part 4, we'll talk more about dealing with funding sources and the joy thereof!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

How 'Bout Some Extra Support

I'm quickly learning that this item is already wildly popular. It’s the Easy Install Bath Safety Bar. Unlike standard bath grab bars, this one uses strong suction to hold itself to the wall, bathtub, or whatever surface you put it on. 

This ease of installation makes it seemingly ideal for use when installation of standard grab bars seems difficult or impossible. However, the manufacturer does say that these are for use in place of regular grab bars, but as a supplement to them. What does this mean? Well, if you have a grab bar, this can be used to give you an additional hand-hold while getting into and out of the tub. 

Now, in my non-scientific testing, I have learned that you can only get the bar to stick if the suction cups on both end can be completely on a non-porous smooth surface. So if you have the bar set up between two tiles in a tiled wall, It won’t stick. If you can get it on its own tile, it sticks pretty well.  If you have a smooth surface you can attach the bar to, then this may be something for you. 

Some of the bars have indicators that tell you when it’s got a good hold on the wall.  The bars vary in size and also in price. I’ve seen them for as little as $14 to as much as $40. They are also available from a number of manufacturers and a number of stores.  If you’re not sure if one of these quick attach bars is for you, borrow ours and try it out. As with anything, if you don’t feel comfortable trying the bars out, by all means don’t!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Get up!

This bargain is a handy little one that can help you get out of bed. It’s the Standers 5000 Advantage Travel Bed Rail Advantage, and it’s a great low-cost way you can get help getting up and out of your bed.  It’s made of heavy-duty steel so it can take some use. It is only 23-inches high by 16.5-inches wide, so it’s a pretty low-profile device that won’t keep someone from rolling out of bed, but it is big enough to give you a handhold to get in and out of bed. It even has a two-pocket covering that can hold magazines and/or a TV remote.  It normally retails for about $70, but you can order it from for $46.10 with free shipping.  If you do need a full-sized bed rail, I would recommend consulting a therapist as this may be covered by your funding source, if applicable. You never know unless you ask!

Friday, February 11, 2011

What's this "Listen Now" button and where's the podcast?

You might have noticed the little "Listen Now" buttons at the top of each post. If you click that button, you can listen to an audio version of that post. Pretty cool huh? That audio version of the post is created by a service called Odiogo.

Now, I'd like to thank Dan Fendler, my fellow AT Technophile and web guru for introducing me to Odiogo. What Odiogo does is allow me to have audio versions of my blog so you can listen to it if you wish. It also allows me to have an audio podcast of this blog without having to actually record the thing. How cool is that? 

The service is free, and you can get to the site by clicking on this link Feel free to take it for a test drive by listening to the audio versions of The Basement. You can't use it to get audio versions of every blog you may read unless the blogger uses it. If they don't, why not recommend that they do? It can only enhance the accessibility of their blog to more readers/listeners. I highly recommend it!

Understanding "The Process" (Part 2)

I was thinking about the information I gave you in "Understanding the Process--Part 1", and I owe you all a big apology. I was a Bad Bunny

What I should have told you was that when you're waiting for your appointment to see your doctor to talk about possibly getting some equipment, you should be contacting your insurance company to see what their policy is regarding getting assistive technology or durable medical equipment.

Let's take a quick time-out to talk about durable medical equipment (DME) and assistive technology (AT). DME is a subset of AT, meaning NOT ALL assistive technology is durable medical equipment, but all durable medical equipment IS assistive technology. When we look at what DME is, we see that it's essentially medical assistive technology (ventilators, wheelchairs, walkers, hospital beds, standers, etc.). That's different from say non-medical assistive technology (Don Johnson SOLO or Kurzweil 3000). Now, there are a lot of things that aren't considered DME that many people think should be considered DME, but we're not here to talk about that. We're here to talk about how to get the stuff we need. Time-out over.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Understanding "The Process" (Part 1)

One of the things people always ask me is if I think the Lakers have a good shot at the title this year. Of course they do! They usually do! They have a strong starting 5 and a good bench. Kobe just has to show up every game and want to play the team game. 

Another question people ask me, perhaps even more than the one about my beloved Lakers, is "How do I go about getting AT?" The process of getting assistive technology covered is not as difficult as you would think. The biggest mistake most people make or the problem that they face is that they don't gather all of the information they should about the process before they proceed. Hopefully, after reading this article, you'll have a better idea about how to get your AT funded without having to buy it out of pocket.

Monday, January 24, 2011

What Time Is It?

This bargain is one of many I've found in the Dynamic Living catalog. It’s the Big LED Calendar Clock, and it’s a handy item. The display is easy to read with large red letters and numbers on a black background. The time displays with numbers 2.25-inches tall and the letters and numbers in the calendar display are 1.5-inches tall. The only improvement I would make would be to also make it talk, but at $99.00, it’s a nice bargain. 
Big LED Calendar Clock

If you need a larger number and don't mind not having the calendar available, they also have a nice clock with 4" numbers. The 4" Display Remote Control Alarm Clock gives you a great large display of the time. With 4" tall numbers, the clock works very well for people with various visual impairments. 
4" Display Remote Control Alarm Clock

Dynamic Living has a few other clocks that might make a difference for you. For more info, check out their clocks and watches at

Other places you can find large print clocks and watched include Maxi-Aids and Independent Living Aids

If you've got a hearing impairment and you need a clock that will alert you in a non-auditory fashion, these sites can help you too. Clocks for people with a hearing impairment usually have a visual or tactile alert system. What does that mean? Well, often, they'll flash a lamp connected to the clock. If it doesn't flash a lamp, it may vibrate a pillow shaker letting you know the alarm is going off. 

The venerable "old man" in this arena is the Sonic Boom alarm clock by Sonic Alert. The clock has been around for a while and has lots of users who swear by it. You can plug a lamp into the Sonic Boom and it will flash the lamp when the alarm goes off. If the lamp won't work for you, you can plug in a pillow shaker so it will vibrate under your pillow. The unit can be purchased with a pillow shaker, but the lamp is not included. You can find the Sonic Boom at for $59.95 (+ shipping & handling). You can also find it at Independent Living Aids too. There are also travel versions, pocket versions, and even vibrating watches! The key is to figure out just what you need and use that. And don't forget, in a pinch, you can always set your cell phone on vibrate, set an alarm (if it has an alarm function) and either sleep with it on you or put it under your pillow. You might want to make sure it's vibration is strong enough for you to feel it through the pillow. 

Whatever your need may be, be sure to research possible solutions as much as you can before making a final purchase.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Seeking Stability?

This hint is from a Basement Regular who wished to remain anonymous. Her tip was for making house hallways a little easier to navigate for folks with a balance or mobility problem. Her simple tip was to add a hand rail to both sides of the hallway. Having handrails down both sides of the hall takes a pretty wide hallway since the minimum distance between handrails is supposed to be at least 36 inches. So you may only be able to put up handrails on one side of the hall. Still, for those folks who have difficulty navigating a long hallway, handrails can be a godsend. If you are a do it yourselfer or you know one, this simple project can be completed for less than $100, depending on how fancy you want to get with your handrails. Now, handrails, like most everything else in a house or building, have design and building specifications that must be followed. Those can be found online, at your local library or by contacting the county regarding specifications for handrails. As with any home modification or improvement project, never proceed unassisted if you do not know what you are doing. 

Opening Jars Made Easy!

You may have seen the commercials for this nifty little gadget. Unlike other automatic jar openers that may be constrained to a particular jar size for operation.  Because this unit does not have a chamber into which the jar is placed, it is not limited by the size of the jar. To use it, all you do is place the One Touch on top of the jar you want to open, press the start button, and it opens the jar by itself. Now, you can buy the One Touch from the Maxi-Aids ( for $19.95 + shipping. I also found it listed on for $39.99 I was recently made aware that Happy Harrys has the One Touch so if you try there, you can get it same day. However, do note that not all stores share the same pricing and not all stores will have the same availability.  For the price, that’s a heck of a bargain!