There are a range of technologies and devices, such as artificial limbs, hearing aids and wheelchairs that can make it easier for people with disabilities to work. However, personal and environmental factors can make employment more difficult and thus need to be taken into consideration, according to a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
Kenneth Ottenbacher, professor and director of the division of rehabilitation sciences at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, served on a committee that studied how many and which people have access to and actually use assistive devices. In addition the panel studied how much the devices contributed to a person being successful at work.
“The medical professionals who evaluate disabled peoples’ level of functioning should not assume that the assistive products they use daily enable them to work,” said Ottenbacher. “Rather, they should consider the person’s whole living situation, including their environmental, societal and personal factors, as well as the range of products available to them.”
Many socio-economic factors have a big impact on access to assistive products and technologies and to health care providers whom can properly outfit and train people in their use, the report says. Personal elements such as the disabled person’s age, previous work experience, workplace attitudes and the physical workspace can also pose barriers to employment.
According to 2010 Census Bureau data, of the 56.7 million Americans who had some type of disability, only 41 percent of working-age individuals reported being employed, compared with 79.1 percent for working-age people without a disability.
Which assistive products are available to people often depends more on their insurance policy than which device is their best option. The report explained how Medicare and other insurance groups do not always cover the cost of the products that would be best for the users because assistive devices often are developed at a faster rate than insurance reimbursement systems and health care providers and insurers may not even be aware of the new products.
The report noted that limited information on how assistive products impact their users’ lives may affect which devices are covered by insurance. Insurers may reject payment for new products and technologies or ones that they do not deem medically necessary, even if a trained professional prescribes them.
The report stated that additional research is needed to better understand how the use of assistive products help people with disabilities integrate more fully into society in general and at workplaces.
The panel, the Committee on the Use of Selected Assistive Products and Technologies Technologies in Eliminating or Reducing the Effects of Impairments compiled the report over a period of 18 months. The Social Security Administration had asked the National Academies committee for the study.