Rehabilitation professionals who recommend and/or prescribe assistive products (APs), and the consumers who use the products, may have varying goals when they begin the product selection and decision-making process (Scherer, Jutai, Fuhrer, Demers & DeRuyter, 2007; Cushman & Scherer, 1996). Most often, professionals view the primary role of APs as restoring functional independence to individuals with disabilities. They tend to see their role as including the following:
- Assess individual for AP needs and preferences
- Order AP for individuals
- Train individuals on new AP use
- Repair and/or adapt AP
Less frequently, professionals and AP providers monitor functional outcomes and use of the AP.
Consumers, on the other hand, have reported significant dissatisfaction with obtained AP and tend to apply their own criteria to what is a useful AP (Scherer & Lane, 1997; Lane, Usiak, Stone & Scherer, 1997). Some reasons they give for not viewing an AP favorably or for not using it are:
- AP did not meet user expectations
- AP use did not result in a gain
- User's need for the AP changed
- The AP was too inconvenient to use
- AP use caused pain, strain, or fatigue
- A different or upgraded AP was needed
It is very important that providers and consumers are afforded the time and resources to engage in a comprehensive AP selection process. It is just as important that three key elements known to be associated with AP use and non-use are evaluated: Characteristics of the person who is to use the AP, relevant aspects of the milieu or environments of use and features of the AP under consideration [Scherer, 2004; Scherer, 2005a). Examples of influences within each of these three elements are listed below:
Characteristics of the person
- Mood: Many individuals experience bouts of anxiety and depression over their lifetimes, regardless if they have a disability or not. When these mood states exist, they can cloud judgment and color the way a person views support from an AP.
- Background experiences: If a person has not had prior exposure to or use of APs, they may have expectations that are vague, distorted or unrealistic.
- Judgment and preferences: For a variety of reasons, people may not perceive the benefit of using an AP, some people may prefer to use personal assistance rather than an AP, or they may prefer a product that is low- vs. high-tech, or the opposite.
- Outlook: The existence of pain, the effects of some medications, poor family interactions, these are just some factors that can affect a person's view of their current situation and likely future.
- Abilities, aptitudes, and attitudes: Some consumers prefer the simplicity and reliability of mechanical devices over those that are computerized because they want to, but do not, understand how a complex product works and is maintained.
Characteristics of the milieu
- Exposure and opportunity: Consumers and professionals alike may not have been exposed to the benefits and value APs offer. They may have had limited contact with persons who use an array of AP and, consequently, do not think of AP as a first choice.
- Support from others: Therapists as well as family members often have their own preferences and perspectives of AP use. Despite well-meaning intentions, these can overshadow what the consumer wants and thinks is most appropriate.
- Resource availability: Some regions, or facilities within regions, may not be equipped with a variety of products for consumers and professionals to become familiar with or trial.
- Cultural expectations: In many cultures it is expected that a person with a disability will not participate actively in community living and events. It is also expected that the individual will receive primary support from other persons, not products.
Characteristics of the Assistive Product
- Appropriateness for the Consumer: It is important that the AP is a good match with the consumer in terms of style, size and weight. It needs to have the desired portability, set up and use requirements, and not cause undue fatigue to use
- Conspicuousness: A value many consumers hold is looking the same as their peers who do not have disabilities. An AP that they perceive makes them stand out in a crowd or look less independent
- Benefit from use: APs that are not viewed as resulting in a gain for the user are apt to be discarded.
It can be appreciated how crucial it is to discover the consumer's needs, preferences, and expectations of AP use at the start of the AP decision-making and selection process. The professional or provider and the consumer ideally work together, in partnership, to:
- choose the most appropriate product when there is a choice of several;
- decide whether a particular product is the most appropriate choice given the characteristics of the person, environment and product;
- decide on the most appropriate training strategies for an individual's optimal use of the selected product.
It is the professional's job to get to know the consumer, identify goals and dreams, and conduct a good assessment of AP needs and preferences. The process would progress as in the diagram below:
Steps in User-Focused AP Assessment
- Goals & dreams
- Need for AP
- Readi-ness for AP
- AP and lifestyle fit
- Comfort with use
Steps after number 5 are to make any adjustments or modifications in the AP and conduct follow-up assessments to determine changed needs.
To summarize, the professional and consumer each bring to the AP selection process a set of needs and expectations. Each wants information that is different, but can be combined to result in the shared desired outcome: the selection of the most appropriate AP for that consumer's use.
Information the Professional Wants
- The consumer's goals and expectations
- What the consumer tried that worked out well
- What the consumer tried that did NOT work out well
- The desirability of a no-tech, low tech or high tech intervention – or other form of support.
Information the Consumer wants
- Available AP choices and their quality
- How to master use
- How well the AP is likely to perform
There is a validated assessment process, Matching Person and Technology, that consists of different measures tochose from to assist the professional and consumer in considering all the elements and questions discussed in this article. One measure is the Assistive Technology Device Predisposition Assessment (Scherer, 2005b). It has several positive characteristics:
- Good psychometric properties. Predictive of a match.
- Useful when evaluating a person's device expectations and realization of benefit with a specific device.
- All materials available on a single CD-ROM
- Computerized scoring and interpretations available
- Website and listserv updates available from Matching Person and Technology (http://MatchingPersonandTechnology.com)
It does require a commitment of at least 25 minutes to complete (longer if other forms are also used such as History of Support use) and to involving the consumer in the AP selection process. It also asks consumer questions about their Personal Factors and this makes some professionals uncomfortable because they were not trained in asking such questions.
This article has emphasized that there is a need for improved matching of person and assistive product. It has described examples of information needed about a consumer in order to select the most appropriate AP or other support for that person's use and it has outlined the benefits of using the MPT measures to collect such information. It is hoped that this brief communication will help both professionals and their consumers to better achieve their goals.