When our first born turned one, I knew it was not just the fact that he was a big baby that stopped him from standing up. Our fears were realised six months later when he was diagnosed with a neuromuscular impairment. It was not only my goals, dreams and aspirations for my son that had to be reconfigured, but also his own. With a normal intelligence, awareness and passion for sport, his physical body had failed to deliver his desire to be active and to participate in sport. Instead he lived through his brothers, encouraging them to be what he could not.
We talked in his teens about drug trials, the eternal hope for a cure, and then the ‘if only’ – a working hand, arm or two would be great, so he could do more for himself. That ‘if only’ became reality in the form of a robotic arm 3 years ago. A major fundraising effort and multiple trials delivered not only a very cool attachment to his wheelchair, but with it came what all people with disabilities desire, INDEPENDENCE!
Our digital revolution hit an all time high in the last 20 years, with the introduction and social immersion of mobile phones, the internet, social media and tablet usage. Its social benefits are a constant discussion point amongst parents, but the people who have benefited the most in terms of social inclusion, independence, communication and education are those with disabilities.
This type of technology, known as assistive technology, is improving the lives of people living with a disability, helping them to do tasks they cannot normally do, or enabling them to perform these tasks more effectively and independently.
For people with Autism there are programs that are easily loaded onto tablets that teach a behaviour or skill. Imitating this skill allows them to develop the skill that they previously could not understand. They have found a way to develop an independent skill.
For people with speech impairments there is a constant stream of newly developing applications on tablets or computers that enable the person to be understood by the general population. They have been given a voice.
For people with physical impairments there are switches and smart pens that can be attached to any part of the body that functions, which helps them access devices to be able to access their environment. There are even wireless Bluetooth connections that take the access to devices one step further – wheelchairs can now connect to computers, lights, television, door openers. Lastly, motion, voice-activated or breath-controlled devices assist those with little physical motion. They have been given control over their environment.
Assistive technology is allowing people with disabilities to participate in mainstream life, where their older counterparts were never able to. It has also decreased the need for support and increased their ability to participate in everyday life. This in turn creates higher satisfaction and productivity and less anxiety and depression.
Thanks to his robotic arm, my son now lives independently in the community and has been given the freedom of choice to live the life he wants. There is less need for physical care and this in turn has given him more control over his everyday quality of life. To add to his freedom, he is a happy part of the Australian Paralympic team, realising his dream to play a sport himself.
Susan has worked as a physical therapist for over 20 years, recently more specifically with adults and children with disabilities. Susan has lived in Sydney for 22 years, but was born and educated in the Netherlands. In 2005 she completed a Masters degree in a developmental disability and furthered her career within the disability sector, adding seating and positioning to her specialties. Susan lives on the Northern Beaches with her family and runs her business, Postural Exercise Therapy, from home.
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