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Aids and equipment

Everyone uses an aid or a piece of equipment of some sort or another to make their lives easier or more convenient:  the television remote control, for example, or gadgets for undoing stiff bottle tops.

Similarly, there is virtually no aspect of daily living which cannot be made easier for disabled people by the provision of an aid, which can vary from the extremely simple (such as a pick-up stick, or extended tap turners) to the highly sophisticated (such as an environmental control system). 

Many items can be provided by local or health authorities.  For local authority provision of aids to daily living, talk to a social worker or occupational therapist about an assessment of your needs (see  Care in the Community).  For health service provision of items such as wheelchairs, walking aids or communication aids, contact your GP (see Health Services)

Aids to Daily Living
If you prefer to choose and purchase your own aids, a number of items can be bought at ordinary high street shops: easier-to-use tin openers for example, which can be useful for everyone but may be particularly useful for someone who experiences pain or stiffness in their hands.  Some high street stockists produce specialist publications, such as the catalogue available in Boots the Chemist stores.  There are also mail order catalogues covering a range of products from companies such as Keep Able.  Items which are designed specifically for, and solely for the use of, disabled people are exempt from VAT.

Alternatively, you could visit your local Disabled Living Centre (DLC) to get an idea of the range of aids and equipment on the market.  There are around 40 DLCs around the country providing information and advice on the practical aspects of daily living and offering people the chance to view and try out a number of different items.  The address of your local DLC will be in the phone book or available from the Disabled Living Centres Council. It is worth phoning in advance to make an appointment to visit and check what equipment your local centre has on display.

In addition, there are a number of Independent Living Shows and exhibitions such as Naidex held around the country each year at which manufacturers and suppliers display their products and encourage visitors to try them out.  The products on display range from small, simple gadgets through to more complex devices such as computer control systems which can be operated by eye movements.  Information on the dates and whereabouts of these shows and exhibitions are given in the disability magazines such as RADAR’s Bulletin and Scope’s Disability Now, and may also be advertised in your local newspaper.

Clothing and Footwear

People who have limited manual dexterity or restricted movement may find it difficult to put on or fasten clothing.  Some disabled people have problems finding off-the-peg clothes which fit properly and people who use, for example, mobility aids often find that there is above-average wear and tear on particular areas of their clothing.

Often these problems can be overcome by simple home alterations, but sometimes it may be necessary to have clothes specially made.  There are a number of mail order companies, such as The Special Collection, which specialise in clothing with easy-dressing features, extra large sizes, designs for wheelchair users and other special clothing needs.  The Disabled Living Foundation can advise on clothing and footwear specialists for disabled people.

Comfortable, correctly-fitting footwear is very important.  People who need orthopaedic, or built-up, boots or shoes will be referred by their doctor or consultant to a specialist fitter.  People with mobility difficulties often wear out their shoes unevenly and this should be borne in mind when purchasing footwear: it might be advisable to buy sturdy shoes which are easy to have repaired.  Sole Mates is an organisation which “partners” people who have different sized feet or only one foot, with the aim of sparing them the expense of having to have their shoes purpose-made or of having to buy two pairs each time.  Many people, however, find that they are most comfortable in sandals or soft shoes such as trainers.  A chiropodist or physiotherapist should be able to give useful advice on appropriate footwear.

Communication Aids

There is a wide range of aids available to help people communicate, from adapted typewriters to speech replacement devices.  Some of these will be available from the health authority, perhaps through a Communication Aids Centre, while others may be obtained from voluntary bodies like SEQUAL or have to be bought privately.  Special equipment such as amplifiers and artificial larynxes can be prescribed by a hospital consultant.

People who are deaf or hard of hearing may find textphones (sometimes called minicoms) of use, whereby the message is typed rather than spoken.  The National Telephone Relay Service (Typetalk) is a communication link for deaf, deaf/blind, hard of hearing and speech impaired people who use textphones.  It operates 24 hours a day, every day of the year and calls are charged almost as though dialled direct.  The Text Users’ Rebate Scheme provides rebates on bills.

Mobility Aids

The NHS can provide a free, long-term loan of a manual wheelchair to a person who has a permanent mobility need.  Powered indoor/outdoor wheelchairs can be provided to severely disabled people by the NHS if it is assessed that they cannot propel a manual wheelchair, and it is sometimes possible to obtain a more robust powered wheelchair for outdoor use only, although very few are made available due to the shortage of funding.

If you need a wheelchair, contact your doctor or hospital consultant first.  S/he will complete an application form and send it to the wheelchair service centre which will supply the wheelchair.

A voucher scheme is in operation which provides financial assistance from the NHS to enable people to buy the wheelchair of their choice from the private sector.  Not everyone is eligible, however, and the voucher does not cover the whole cost of the wheelchair.  If you decide to buy your own wheelchair, it is very important to make sure you choose the one that is right for you.  It would be worth visiting a mobility centre for a full assessment, if you can, or getting advice from your physiotherapist or occupational therapist.  Going to Naidex or one of the independent living shows or exhibitions and trying out a range of wheelchairs is also a good idea - they, and the mobility centres, all have test drive facilities.

Some local authorities, shopping centres or local groups operate Shopmobility Schemes, which loan wheelchairs or scooters to help people get around the shopping centre.  For a free directory of schemes send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to the National Federation of Shopmobility.  The British Red Cross is able to supply many items on short term loan, such as manual wheelchairs, commodes and easy-reachers.  The address and telephone number of your local branch will be in the phone book.

Simpler mobility aids, such as walking frames or walking sticks, are available either through the health service or by private purchase.  There are also devices with a combination of uses such as a shopping trolley which is also a walking frame and can be used as a seat for a rest half way round the supermarket.  Again, a visit to an independent living show or a DLC would be advisable.

Further Information

The Disability Information Trust produces a series of fully illustrated books entitled “Equipment for Disabled People”.  These give facts and comments on a wide range of products including specially manufactured equipment, everyday consumer goods and do-it-yourself ideas, and give points to consider before any purchase is made. Most items are assessed and tested prior to inclusion.

The Disabled Living Foundation provides a national information service and database for disabled people and professionals on aids and equipment. The Foundation has a wide range of publications including resource papers and advice notes on a number of topics.

The Research Institute for Consumer Affairs produces a number of disability-related reports and guides, including “Equipment for an Easier Life”, “Guide to Community Alarms” and “Powered Wheelchairs, Scooters and Buggies - a guide to help you choose”.

RADAR’s book “Getting the Best from your Wheelchair” is a guide to using a basic wheelchair.  It gives information on dealing with kerbs, transferring techniques, how to push a wheelchair and tips on looking after the chair, among other details.

The Disability Equipment Register is a non-profit-making organisation which helps people buy and sell second-hand aids and equipment.  Try also the “For Sale” sections of disability-related magazines such as Disability Now and The Disabled Driver.

The British Footwear Association publishes a booklet “Footwear for Special Needs” for people who cannot find the shoes they need in ordinary shops.

When no commercially available aid is suitable, REMAP is frequently able to help.  REMAP brings together engineers and paramedical professionals who re-design or make items from scratch to meet an individual’s needs.  It operates through local panels and details are available from REMAP GB or the regional organisers listed at the end of this section.

Carers association

We are indebted to RADAR for providing the information for this section.