Incapacity advocates name for simpler entry to ‘life-changing’ know-how

Tammy Martin has spent more than a decade making it easy for young students with special needs to learn to read – a skill she too would have difficulty with if she didn’t have a state-of-the-art device that could clearly see the words on the screen Page.

The educational assistant from Truro, NS, is one of the many Canadians with a disability who requires the use of life-changing, but often unaffordable, assistive technologies that proponents say need to be more accessible.

Martin has optic nerve hypoplasia – a congenital disease in which the optic nerve is underdeveloped – and uses a portable medical device called the eSight from a Toronto-based company. The device, which resembles a virtual reality headset, is designed to improve functional vision and costs thousands of dollars to buy.

“It’s completely life changing. I can do so many more things,” said Martin, who raised funds through the company for her first eSight in 2017, which cost nearly $ 13,000.

The device allows her to read small things like fine print or pick one of her students out of a crowd. Now she’s trying to raise funds for a wireless version that frees her hands and makes work easier. This one will run them about $ 6,392.

Cost biggest barrier

Assistive technologies such as Martin’s eSight are considered to be items, pieces of equipment, or software programs that help people with disabilities with tasks that might otherwise be difficult. It could be as low-tech as a cane or as high-tech as voice-text technology.

In its 2017 Canadian Disability Survey, Statistics Canada reported that 1.5 million people with disabilities aged 15 and over needed a help or device they did not have.

“Of these, a million said cost was the cause of their unmet need. That was 69 percent of people with unmet needs or 17 percent of all people with disabilities,” the report said.

The survey also found that people with severe disabilities are more likely to have no access to aids and other aids due to cost reasons.

Life changing technology

“It’s very expensive for these things,” said Vicky Levack, a disability rights attorney and vice chair of the Halifax Accessibility Advisory Committee.

Vicky Levack, who has cerebral palsy, says using a pill allowed her to become more independent. “I can take it anywhere,” she says. (Vicky Levack)

Levack has a severe form of cerebral palsy – something she has dealt with all of her life – and regularly uses an iPad that allows her to become more independent.

Unlike Martin, she was unable to work with technology companies or nonprofits, but she was lucky enough to have a family member bought the tablet.

“We can afford it, but a lot of people can’t,” she said. “This piece of $ 800 technology changed my life.”

There are no national standards for sharing coverage for assistive technologies, largely because many devices are not included as insured benefits under the Canada Health Act and are therefore not part of general health coverage.

Patricia Neves, executive director of Inclusion Nova Scotia, a nonprofit, said “there are absolutely barriers” for people in need.

“There are financial barriers. Most people with intellectual disabilities live in poverty,” she said.

Statistics Canada’s 2017 survey found that nearly 30 percent of people with disabilities between the ages of 25 and 64 live in poverty. It said that only 59 percent of Canadians with disabilities were employed in 2015, compared to 80.1 percent of the rest of the population.

Nova Scotia has made good progress on aid programs for people with disabilities in the provinces, according to Neves, but is still lagging behind.

“Level the playing field”

“I hope so [assistive technology] is offered as a right, “said Neves.” That doesn’t exist [people with disabilities] Special treatment and $ 4,000 more than anyone else; that paves the way for them. “

The provincial government offers various services and financial support as part of its program to support people with disabilities, including facilitating access to assistive technology.

“If a participant needs an item that is not listed in the policy but is considered critical to the health and safety of a participant, it can be considered an exception to the policy,” said JoAnn Alberstat, spokeswoman for the community service department . said CBC in an email.

“Such a request would be considered on a case-by-case basis and must include an assessment and recommendation from a qualified medical / clinical practitioner.”

Requires reporting

Levack said while these programs are helpful, more needs to be done to make this technology easier for people to access.

“There is too much red tape,” she said. “I want you to listen to the people this technology will help.”

Martin hopes to raise the money for her new eSight in a few months but said it won’t be easy. Government reporting would go a long way, she said.

“It’s a shame because there are so many people who could benefit from things like eSight and such assistive technology,” she said. “It’s expensive, but it would be nice if they could even cover part of it.”

Levack said she hoped that in the future, people will have more access to not only get the assistive technology they need, but also support such as home care.

“As our population ages, this technology becomes increasingly important,” she said. “We have to invest in money now, otherwise we will have a bigger crisis than we have already done.”

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