Editor’s Note

2082: An Assistive Technology Odyssey

I’m an avid reader who rarely gets rid of a book. The books of my life are stacked everywhere in my apartment (except under my desk, which is duck-and-cover space should a California earthquake turn those hard- and soft-covered pages into an avalanche).

Although an electronic book reader would seem a no-brainer for me, I remain Nook-less, my interest in e-readers still unKindled. Nor do I read books on an iPad (don’t have one) or similar device. Despite the obvious advantages to an e-reader — carry an infinite number of books onto airplanes! Instantly buy books without driving to a bookstore! — I am cantankerously convinced that e-readers would deprive me of some of the best parts of reading. The vision of the word on the page, the sound of paper turning, the feel of the page edge on my fingers, the smell of new books and, more gloriously, old books — does the e-reader offer those sensations?

I am notoriously slow to embrace new technology. I dug in my heels when cameras went digital, even though I was forever running out of film at ISS and Medtrade. I’ve been without television since free TV signals stopped.

I am not yet a senior in years, but I can understand the resistance to change and technology that many senior consumers feel — and that we discuss in our special editorial section.

Seating & mobility and accessibility professionals — as well as those who have parents or grandparents who could now benefit from such equipment — know first hand how difficult it can be to persuade seniors to try new technology of any kind. And those conversations become downright prickly when that technology has a healthcare angle. Seniors often protest that a scooter looks too “medical,” that a power chair will make them look “handicapped,” that using a walker “will make me look old.” Industry professionals know the opposite is usually true, that people who use seating & mobility equipment that’s been especially chosen and fitted to their requirements have much more energy and are more active than they would be without such technology.

It’s still a tough sell to someone who’s always taken care of her husband herself without any help, or who’s always managed on his own without leaning on anyone.

Yet, there are hopeful signs on the horizon.

In June, the Pew Internet & American Life Project released a report that said 53 percent of Americans 65 and older are Internet users as of April 2012. This is the highest percentage reported so far, and it follows a plateau. “After several years of very little growth among this group, these gains are significant,” the report said.

Nearly 70 percent of seniors now own a mobile phone, the report added — a 12-percent increase from two years ago.

Of course, there’s a big difference between owning a cell phone and embracing a power chair evaluation — but maybe by browsing the Internet, seniors will learn more about the risks of falling, for instance, and how using the right assistive technology and accessibility products can give them more energy for playing with the grandkids, lunching with friends, and running errands.

Our July issue also features a pictorial of pediatric seating, mobility and accessibility products, which made me wonder how today’s kids will view tomorrow’s assistive technology.

Today’s toddlers play games on the family iPad or smart phone while sitting in their car seats as mom or dad uses GPS to find the fastest driving routes. These kids will be fluent in social media by their tweens, and we can’t yet guess at what technology they’ll be using in their teens.

Surrounded by electronic support, communications and conveniences all their lives, will these kids become seniors who view technology as not just helpful, but their birthright? Sure, our very nature means humans will always resist change to some degree. But if you’ve grown up with technology as an ally — as something that makes everyday living easier and safer — will you be quicker to accept tomorrow’s ultra-ultralight chairs and performance power seating?

Even stubborn people evolve. I love the paper-ness of my books, but I also love going online, reserving my book at a local bookstore, and having them text me their confirmation.

This article originally appeared in the July 2012 issue of Mobility Management.

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at lwatanabe@1105media.com.

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