North Dakota Assistive was granted $75,000 through the Christopher and Dana Reeves Foundation to help the organization better provide rural North Dakotans with paralysis assistive technology to improve their quality of life.
For the purpose of the grant, paralysis is defined as: difficulty and/or inability to use arms and/or legs due to neurological conditions including but not limited to spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, stroke, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, ALS and post-polio syndrome.
The non-profit ND Assistive was founded in 1993 due to a the federal Assistive Technology Act, which requires all states to have an assistive technology program. Assistive technology includes items like medication dispensers and Amazon Echo that's programmed to do tasks such as turning the lights off an on.
"With these grant dollars, we’ve expanded both in our Fargo and in our Mandan offices our Home First Centers … We’ve basically put a house in our office with rooms of the home. We’ve got bathroom, bedroom, kitchen, living room, computer office room, and it is sprinkled with assistive technology," said Tami Ternes, AT consultant. "There are basically three major control smart systems out there. We’ve got all of those plus Microsoft Cortana. We’ve got them hooked up to and operating products such as blinds, lights, fans."
Though the individual services paid for by the grant must be for people in rural North Dakota with paralysis, Ternes said anyone can schedule an appointment to tour the Home First Centers and see the assistive technology devices in action.
For individuals who may not be able to drive to Mandan or Fargo, ND Assistive will give virtual tours. For those without the technology to video chat, they have a solution for that, too.
"Myself as a collaborator, if that person doesn’t have the technology, they don’t have an iPad to be able to Face Time, that’s where I step in. If they call Assistive and say, ‘I would like to see what you have, but I can’t come down there,’ then I would be the connection ... I would take the iPad over to them and help them do the Skype call," said Janelle Stoneking, Lead Support Coordinator at ABLE.
They can even try some of the technology via video.
"We've already done tours with people via video, and we had them make commands through the iPad, and it actually worked and they were able to open the blinds through the window," Ternes said.
Rural North Dakotans with paralysis can also rent a home kit for $15 for six weeks that they could either pick up at one of the offices or have mailed to them. The kit contains basic smart-home equipment, such as Echo Show, Echo Dot, Kasa Cam (smart home camera) and Go Sound Smart Plug to remote-control their appliances. ND Assistive will even help them set them up.
"I think a piece of this is knowing that there is support, that someone will help them try it out. I know even for loved ones who maybe aren't as tech-savy to even try to help figure it out for their loved one ... it's overwhelming," Stoneking said.
For now, those kits are available only for those served by the grant, but Ternes said once the grant is over in a year, they will become available to anyone.
Once they find out what equipment would work for them, there is financial assistance available for purchasing the items.
"We could help them out as long as they show the need and the disability and have the income requirement. We do have a grant program that we raise dollars for throughout the year. We give grants out up to $2,000, four times a year ... Here at North Dakota Assistive, individuals can actually take out a low-interest loan through us, versus going to a bank," Ternes said.
Although the grant money is earmarked for people with paralysis, ND Assistive helps other people gain access to assistive technology as well.
It even has a short-term equipment trail program individuals can access called North Dakota AT4ALL, where people can buy, sell or exchange assistive technology.
The Reeve Foundation is dedicated to curing spinal cord injury by funding innovative research and improving the quality of life for people living with paralysis through grants, information, and advocacy. The Foundation's Paralysis Resource Center (PRC), through a cooperative agreement with the Administration of Community Living, provides much-needed information, programs, emotional support, and individualized assistance to Americans living with paralysis, along with their caregivers, families and medical professionals.