AT and Older South Carolinians
The elderly population is growing much faster than the general population. The number of people over age 85 is the fastest growing part of the elderly population. For these and other reasons, assistive technology’s potential for elderly people is a critical issue. Since the cost of living in a nursing home is usually much more expensive than the cost of the assistive technology needed to help an older person live independently, provision of assistive technology for the elderly is a critical health care issue.
An assistive technology device is any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially, off-the-shelf, modified, or customized that is used to increase, maintain, or improve a person’s functional capabilities. An assistive technology service is any service that helps a person select, acquire, or learn to use an assistive technology device. These services include customizing, adapting, maintaining, and repairing devices, assistive technology evaluations, funding, and technical assistance and training on device use.
Laws Affecting the Rights of Older Americans
Medicare (P.L. 89-97) is the most comprehensive health care insurance for people over 65 and can provide coverage for assistive technology that is medically necessary, if it fits Medicare’s definition of “durable medical equipment.” When requesting Medicare funding for assistive technology devices, the case must be documented with physicians’ prescriptions.
Medicaid, another federal program (Title XIX of the Social Security Act), provides medical assistance based on financial need. Again, all items must be medically necessary.
The Older Americans Act of 1965 (P.L. 89-73) affirmed the nation’s commitment to the well being of older Americans. This legislation created grants for community planning, services and training. It outlines each state’s responsibility to older people and mandates the creation of state agencies to administer these services. The agency in South Carolina that provides these services is the Governor’s Office Division on Aging. This act also defines assistive technology as technology, engineering methodologies or scientific principles applied to meet the needs of, and address barriers confronted by older individuals with functional limitations.
Transportation and Mobility
The first resource about obtaining mobility aids like walkers, wheelchairs and motorized carts should be a person’s primary medical or rehabilitation agency. Medicare and Medicaid can purchase these items if they are medically necessary. Vans and volunteer drivers are available in some areas for people who are unable to drive.
Living at home can be much less expensive than institutional care. A few simple changes like installing stair railings and grab bars, and coating floors with non-slip substances, can make a house or apartment much easier to navigate. A good source of information about home modifications is the National Association of HomeBuilders (NAHB). The address for NAHB appears at the end of this fact sheet. One of their publications, the Directory of Accessible Building Products, discusses building products and modified household appliances. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) publishes many articles on housing, as well as a book, The Do-Able Renewable Home, which discusses appliances and modifications for convenience and safety. SCATP also publishes a fact sheet on home modifications.
Aids for Daily Living
Assistive technology can help people who have problems with movement, balance or coordination to perform many of the activities of daily living. Many of these devices are inexpensive or can be made easily.
The most common sensory aids are eyeglasses and hearing aids. Because we depend so heavily on our senses of sight and sound, an impairment in one or both of these senses can significantly limit our functioning. Hearing aids may be covered by third party insurers or Medicaid/Medicare.
Recreation and Entertainment
Because the number of Americans over 65 is growing quickly, manufacturers and service providers are designing many products and services especially for this market. Information geared towards seniors is available about everything from sports equipment to travel agencies. For people who like to read, magazines and books are available on tape or in large-print editions. Readers Digest and the New York Times are two publications that publish in large print. The Library of Congress provides books on tape free of charge to eligible consumers. People with hearing impairments can still enjoy television through closed-captioning technology. Most network programs are close-captioned, which means that captions are visible with a special decoder hooked to the TV set or cable box. For information, contact the National Captioning Institute at the address listed below.
The Governor’s Office Division of Aging
202 Arbor Lake Drive Suite 301
Columbia SC 29223
601 E Street NW
Washington DC 2004
Center for Accessible Housing NCSU School of Design
PO Box 8613
Raleigh NC 27695-8613
Library of Congress – Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped
1291 Taylor Street NW
Washington DC 20542
National Association of Home Builders
400 Prince George’s Blvd
Upper Marlboro MD 20072
National Captioning Institute, Inc.
5203 Leesburg Pike
Baileys Crossroads VA 22041
Voice/TDD (703) 998-2400
SC Federation for Older Americans
PO Box 5473
West Columbia SC 29171
SC Independent Living Council
801 Dutch Square Blvd Suite 214
Columbia SC 29210
Voice and TDD: (803) 731-1607
SC Legislative Committee on Aging
212 Blatt Building POB 11867
Columbia SC 29211