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Helping others live a better life

People pick things up, write something down, make dinner or eat a snack nearly every single day, but for some who have a disability or the elderly, those everyday tasks are not so easy. That's where Assistive comes in.

Women at Heritage Hills look over some assistive technology on Friday. (Sydney Mook / The Dickinson Press)
Women at Heritage Hills look over some assistive technology on Friday. (Sydney Mook / The Dickinson Press)

People pick things up, write something down, make dinner or eat a snack nearly every single day, but for some who have a disability or the elderly, those everyday tasks are not so easy. That's where Assistive comes in.

ND Assistive, formerly known as IPAT (Interagency Program for Assistive Technology), is a non-profit organization that strives to bring assistive technology into the lives of all North Dakotans who need it.

"We serve all ages-our youngest has been 2, our oldest has been 105," John Vastag, CEO of Assistive said. "We serve all impairments, whether you have vision impairment, hearing impairment, aging disability, intellectual disability, traumatic brain injury, Parkinson's. We cover the whole cover gambit, and we also cover the whole state."

The program has two "Home First" demonstration centers, which allow people to explore and try different types of assistive technology devices to help people stay safe and active in their homes. The demonstration centers are located in Fargo and Mandan.

"People can come in and look at and feel and touch and see what particular device may work for their needs," Vastag said.

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Assistive will be holding a presentation for the public on Tuesday, April 11 at CHI St. Alexius hospital in Dickinson. The presentation will begin at 6 p.m. Vastag said representatives will walk people through all of the different programs that Assistive offers.

Those who do not live in the Mandan or Fargo area can call consultants to tell them about their issues. The consultant can then research what product would work best and then recommend it to them. While Assistive does not have a storefront and typically the purchases have to be made out-of-pocket, they can help see if someone qualifies for funding.

Assistive technology items can range from a device that signals people to take their medication every day to a set of measuring cups with large writing on them. They also can help people find specialized phones, which can have a decibel-level much higher than a normal cell phone for those who have trouble hearing.

"If you can imagine it, we probably have it," Vastag said.

Beth Bakke Stenehjem, an AT consultant at the Mandan office, said the program is important to her because it can give people more independence.

"You see people with disabilities or a hearing impairment or a visual impairment struggle with just daily living-type skills, or maybe it is something that's a safety issue," Stenehjem said. "There's all this great technology out there, and it can be something very, very simple or can be something that's maybe a little more complicated. But something very, very simple could help somebody stay in their own home."

On Friday, the pair gave a presentation to a group at Heritage Hills, a 55-year-old or older complex, to tell them about the different types of options available. People also got the opportunity to test out some of the items.

Tami Ternes, who is another AT consultant in Mandan, said they do their best to match the equipment to the person and the need.

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"It's not a magic wand," Ternes said. "It can be a start to help identify or solve part of their issues."

Janelle Stoneking, lead support coordinator at ABLE, Inc., commented about the impact Assistive has had on people she knows. For example, a man she works with had stopped watching television one day. Later, she found out he had stopped watching because he was frustrated with the new remote he had gotten. Stoneking, who is also a board member with Assistive, called one of the consultants and got him a brand new, easy-to-use remote for $30. She said he was soon back to watching his favorite shows.

Stoneking said it important for everyone to pitch in and make sure people are being taken care of and can live a good, high-quality life.

"We all have a responsibility to educate ourselves because when my aunt stops answering her phone because she can't hear, I have to be able to say 'Why don't you call (Assistive) because they can get you a phone that's louder,'" she said. "It's all of our responsibility to support each other and be educated enough to give others what they need."

Beth Bakke Stenehjem, left and Tami Ternes, both AT consultants at Assistive, present some assistive technology at Heritage Hills in Dickinson on Friday. (Sydney Mook / The Dickinson Press)
Beth Bakke Stenehjem, left and Tami Ternes, both AT consultants at Assistive, present some assistive technology at Heritage Hills in Dickinson on Friday. (Sydney Mook / The Dickinson Press)

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