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An information paper.
Reported levels of disability in Australia are increasing, and are associated with an ageing population. More people are reporting difficulties with self care and mobility. Many older people suffer from various chronic conditions that affect their functional abilities.
The need for assistive devices to manage the effects of disabling conditions has increased, especially for mild and moderate levels of disability. Ageing of those who care for people with disabilities is another factor increasing the need for such technology.
Demand for assistive devices is growing. In 1992, some 941,800 people in Australia required some sort of technical aid or self-help device to perform one or more of normal day-to-day activities.
The recent Disability Discrimination Act could increase demand for assistive devices, but at present there is limited awareness of the law by those with disabilities, and there may be difficulties in enforcing its provisions.
The design and application of assistive devices need to be appropriate for the problem, having regard to the needs of those with disabilities and options for modifying the environments in which they live.
Levels of use of assistive devices appear to vary considerably. Factors which may increase their use include adequate training, prompt provision after prescription, and influence of social networks. In appropriate circumstances, assistive devices for self-care and mobility are highly utilised in the home and community environment by people with disabilities.
High-technology approaches to deal with disability in the home environment, such as environmental control units, are becoming increasingly available. However, the substantial cost of such high technology devices will limit their application in Australia.
Both the Functional/Medical (device centred) and Contextual (person/ enviroment centred) Models should be used to assess the suitability of assistive technology.
While there are a number of government programs which provide assistive devices for people with disabilities/access to these is limited by strict eligibility criteria.
It remains difficult for those with disabilities to obtain good information about the nature and availability of assistive devices in Australia.
Work is needed to determine whether the findings of studies in other countries on use of assistive technology are applicable in the Australian context.
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