COVID-19 and the Disability Community: The Technology

With all the talk of COVID-19, what about the disability community and the necessary tech?

JonChristopher Collins – FEBRUARY 20, 2021

COVID-19 has affected nearly every person, group, community and industry in some manner; the disability community, the people, industries and organizations that interact with them are not exempt from those effects.

This is the first article in this series on COVID-19 and the disability community. Before digging any deeper into this article, a proper understanding of terms is necessary. Complex Rehabilitation Technology (CRT) is the umbrella under which assistive technology, something used by many in the disability community, sits.

According to The National Coalition for Assistive and Rehab Technology (NCART) CRT is, “medically necessary, individually configured devices that require evaluation, configuration, fitting, adjustment or programming. These products and services are designed to meet the specific and unique medical, physical, and functional needs of an individual with a primary diagnosis resulting from a congenital disorder, progressive or degenerative neuromuscular disease, or from certain types of injury or trauma.”

According to the Assistive Technology Industry Association, “Assistive Technology (AT) is any item, piece of equipment, software program, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of persons with disabilities.”

Durable Medical Equipment (DME), according to Craig Moulden, generally refers to walkers, canes and hospital beds. Among other DME items that might be eligible for coverage, Healthcare.gov includes oxygen equipment, wheelchairs, crutches and blood testing strips for diabetics.

Moulden is an Assistive Technology Professional (ATP). Moulden has held the position of ATP for about five years; however, he has been in the industry of Complex Rehabilitation Technology (CRT) for over 20 years.

“I basically have two aspects of my job. One aspect is calling on my referral sources which are mainly doctors, therapy groups and home health agencies to make sure that they don’t need anything from me for their clients.” Moulden said. Moulden said a lot of that responsibility is taken care of with emails and phone calls due to COVID-19, but he will visit these people in person when he can.

“The other aspect of course,” Moulden continued, “is visiting the clients in the homes to address whatever need they have whether that is to fit them for a new piece of equipment, modify an existing piece of equipment based on any kind of medical changes that they may have had. Or of course if this is a new evaluation for a new piece of equipment for a new diagnosis whether [if] somebody had an accident.” Moulden does a lot of work with children and said that when they come home and need equipment the process will start for them.

Assistive technology, as defined earlier, includes a wide array of items. While that is true, Moulden said a majority of the work ATPs do is specialized in seating and positioning. He said his job is to provide equipment that will accommodate, correct or maintain the bodies of clients with their present condition. “Power chairs are a big deal because that’s where a lot of the technology is with power-tilt and recline, and seat elevator and the different seating systems that they have.”

Moulden said various pieces of equipment are available for clients who are children because they have to have gait trainers and standers. He said any technology that somebody needs for their independence would be CRT.

Numotion is a nationwide company with locations spanning the continental United States. He said that gives clients the ability to get service from the same company wherever the client goes. Moulden worked for Numotion from 2010 until 2021. “We’re really advancing right now and changing the industry with remote technology. So, if a client calls in and needs something, we [Numotion] have a team of remote technicians that can with the increased technology that’s available, at least with power chairs, have a remote technician link into that chair of that person wherever they are and read error codes,” he said.

That allows problems with the equipment to be diagnosed from wherever they are in the country. “That’s kind of a game changer because, most of the time in the past, a client called with an issue, we’d have to schedule an appointment to come out and see them,” Moulden said. He said that could take a couple of days to the next week depending on the availability of the client or the professional from Numotion.

“That’s just to put eyeballs on the situation, to identify it and say, yep this is broken, we need to put in an order for that. Then we have to initiate the process of getting the quote and writing up the order. So, this really cuts all of that down. We can get an order started for that person’s repairs on the initial phone call of them calling in and stating that they’ve got a service issue.” As the nation’s largest supplier of medical supplies, Numotion can discover medical supply needs, do home modifications and vehicle adaptations as well. The company partners with other companies to do home modifications.

Moulden said it is a fair assessment to say that some people do not understand the complexity of this work. Speaking to how his experience working within the disability community has impacted him, Moulden said it has opened his eyes to the amount of people that have mobility needs. “Before I was in the industry, you may only see somebody in a wheelchair or something every once in a while.” He said being in this specific industry constantly places him around those with mobility needs.

“Going to Wal-Mart and seeing somebody parked in a handicap spot that doesn’t have a handicap sticker, that probably burns me a lot more now than it did before.” Moulden also said going somewhere in public that does not have a curb cut out is something he is aware of.

COVID-19 has made an impact on this industry. Moulden said all of his in-person evaluations were drastically reduced. “Once COVID hit in the very beginning and doctors’ offices were shut down and therapy clinics were shutdown, that pretty much for a short period of time shut us down.” He said that is because so many insurance companies require a face-to-face appointment with a doctor prior to them paying for anything. Moulden added that people were either afraid to go to the doctor because they did not want to get out and the doctors’ offices and clinics were shut down for a time. He said a lot of people were putting those activities off. Once protocols were put in place for people to come in for face-to-face appointments or facilities were equipped to handle their business virtually, Moulden said it started rolling a little bit.

“The other hurdle was in addition to the face-to-face, a lot of insurance companies require a therapy evaluation. That was another hurdle because home health agencies that have therapists that come to the house, and then therapy clinics and hospitals weren’t sending their therapists out in the very beginning because of the spread. That was the second hurdle.”

In response to that hurdle, Numotion has partnered with some companies that allow them to do any evaluation with anybody virtually. This is for anyone who does not want to go out in public whether they are high risk or not.

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