by Regina Mayolo, C.A.P.S.
Several years ago, West Virginia AT System (WVATS) was part of a home assessment project funded by the USDA, a component of which was to provide assistive devices to help older adults age in place. The project uncovered Appalachian cultural barriers to seniors adopting home assessment recommendations. For example we often heard:
- I don't need to move the laundry--I've been going up and down those steps just fine for 50 years.
- I don't need more lighting--I have lots of windows.
- My house isn't cluttered--I know where everything is.
- Don't need 'em (threshold ramps)--only guests stub their toes.
- I like my house just the way it is.
Not surprisingly, cultural issues also meant that project participants were reluctant to use higher-end devices and were more likely to use low-cost, low-tech devices. For instance, the $3 jar popper was almost universally preferred over the fancy electric jar opener. Indeed, it became clear that conventional thinking about what constitutes an assistive device needs to expand. After all, a simple toaster oven is sometimes more useable than a much more expensive oven unit; light switch extension handles, threshold ramps, and offset hinges can often eliminate the need for extensive (and unwelcome) home modifications; inexpensive press lights can make hallways or cabinets safer and easier to use. Put simply, low tech is often good tech.
One off-shoot to this awareness is a new approach to WVATS's marketing material to seniors. As a part of the home assessments project, WVATS developed a low-cost low-tech pamphlet keeping the proclivities of the audience in mind. The pamphlet is styled to look like a sales circular for a newspaper--a familiar form of supermarket advertising--rather than an academic education piece or bit of human services outreach.
This is one way that WVATS has worked to incorporate an understanding of cultural issues into its outreach--a sensitivity that enables the program to now make recommendations that are more likely to make a difference. Success is reflected in comments from participants and family members:
- That's the first bath I've had in six months.
- I haven't been able to use that door for years.
- I didn't know how dark it was 'til that light went in.
- I can help my husband get a bath without breaking my back.
- Now I don't have to worry about Mom so much.
- No one's ever given me nothing before.
- Thank you for caring what happens to me.
Regina Mayolo is a technical assistance specialist for the West Virginia Assistive Technology System. The WVATS Low-Cost Low-Tech Pamphlet is available for download at this WVATS Web page.