MSF Brings Free Assistive Technology to MS Community
By Gay Falkowski
For Jarod Jacobs and many other people living with multiple sclerosis, the Internet provides a valuable link to information, resources and forums where online MS communities lend companionship and support. But several years ago spasticity in his hands made it difficult for Jarod to use his computer keyboard. Determined to keep his online connection, Jarod looked for a solution.
He found one through the Assistive Technology (AT) Program at the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation (MSF). After reviewing his situation, the MSF awarded Jarod a grant for a speech recognition software program. The software allows Jarod to operate his PC entirely by voice. Even the keyboard and mouse operations are hands-free.
“There are many tools out there individuals can and should make use of,” Jarod says.
For many people, losing the ability to perform basic tasks is one of the most frustrating consequences of having MS. But some functionality that MS takes away, AT can help restore, fully or partially. AT is any item, product, or piece of equipment that reduces barriers and enhances independence for individuals with disabilities.
“Applying assistive technology is an effective way to enable people who have been restricted by MS. By providing the necessary tools, we can empower them to improve their quality of life,” says Derrick Lee, support team supervisor at the MSF. Approximately 400 people receive grants totaling $40,000 each year from the MSF’s AT program.
There are thousands of AT options on the market from many companies and manufacturers, all designed to allow individuals with disabilities to function more independently in daily living, as well as in recreational, educational and vocational activities.
With so many choices, selecting the right device can be difficult. Affording the device can be even more of a challenge, as the medical and living expenses associated with MS can strain people’s budgets.
Help is available free of charge through the AT Program at the MSF. In addition to computer software, the MSF AT program provides a wide range of mobility and safety aides such as portable ramps, wheelchairs, eating utensils, speaker phones, walkers, hearing and speech aids, and cooling aids.
When Karlene Lyons, the MSF Assistive Technology Program Coordinator, receives a request, she sends an application by mail. Questions are asked about symptoms, level of disability, income, family support, and assistance requirements. This information helps her to assess the needs of the applicant. Financial status helps to determine eligibility for the program.
After she reviews the information and determines if the MSF AT program can help, Karlene establishes which AT product will be provided or she will refer the individual to another source if the MSF AT program is not appropriate. Sometimes partial funding is available. All equipment is ordered from a licensed medical equipment supplier and shipped to the patient free of charge.
While needs can vary greatly from person to person, Jarod urges everyone who has MS to explore the ways in which AT can keep them actively engaged in living. “I live by the attitude ‘If you can’t, you must.’ Because if you can’t and don’t, then your MS owns you,” he says.
For more information on the MSF’s AT program, or to access the service, call: (888) MSFOCUS (673-6287) or visit www.msfocus.org and click Programs & Activities.
The Multiple Sclerosis Foundation is an affiliate partner of the MS Technology Collaborative.
Gay Falkowski is the Editorial Coordinator at the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation. In addition to writing and editing for the Foundation’s MSFocus magazine, Support Group News, and MSFYi newsletter, she develops content for an array of educational fact sheets and booklets on MS-related topics.