Wheelchair User? Stay Healthy With New Equipment From Your Local AT Regional Center!

A man suspended seated in a sling lift beside another man seated in a wheelchair holding a remote control.

Eric Oddleifson, Easter Seals Assistant VP for Assistive Technology and Employment Services (in the sling lift) and Robert Bilotta, Worcester AT Regional Center Coordinator (with scale controller)

Last month, MassMATCH hosted a series of AT Regional Center open houses to showcase the scales and pressure mapping systems now available for borrowing by wheelchair users, their families, clinicians, and other service providers. The devices are essential for the prevention of pressure injuries, a common cause of infection and incapacitation among persons with paralysis.

In Boston, Worcester and Pittsfield, the AT Regional Centers (ATRCs) warmly welcomed community members to learn about the new equipment that is now a part of the centers’ Short-term Device Loan program inventory.  Attendees ranged from community members and staff from local Independent Living Centers to officials from the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission and other related agencies.

The events celebrated the statewide expansion of the Weight and Seating Independence Project (WSIP). Initially grant-funded by the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation in 2017, WSIP expanded in 2018 through support from the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC).

“The goal of the program is to make it possible for people to gain greater control of their health with the kind of information that most of us take for granted,” reflected Ann Shor, MRC’s Director of Independent Living and Assistive Technology. “Everyone should be able to know their own body weight and no one should risk pressure injury because of inadequate seating or positioning with their equipment.”

Participants had the opportunity to get hands-on with scales and pressure mapping systems.

A woman seated on a pressure mapping system with a Smart Board displaying graphs. A man in a wheelchair in the background and another woman standing, helping operate the equipment.

An open house attendee tries out the pressure mapping system.

In Worcester, MassMATCH Coordinator Kobena Bonney and Eric Oddleifson, Assistant VP of Assistive Technology and Employment Services at Easter Seals Massachusetts,  took turns trying out the portable Hoyer lift with scale attachment.

A man seated in a sling lift suspended off the floor talking to a smiling man kneeling beside him. A woman stands smiling in the background.

Kobena Bonney takes a ride in the portable Hoyer lift with scale attachment as Eric Oddleifson looks on.

“We learned from members of the paralysis community how important access is to these devices,” remarked Bonney.  “In Worcester, Springfield and Pittsfield we convened focus groups and heard how it is nearly impossible for a person who uses a wheelchair to obtain their weight at a doctor’s office. We heard how few places there were for wheelchair users to weigh themselves in general. Some even reported relying on UPS mail scales.”

Pressure injuries were also a common experience among the focus group members MassMATCH convened, but access to pressure mapping systems to help evaluate their seating and positioning was not. Louise Colbourne, who is an OT assistant,  manages the ATRC in Pittsfield that serves Western Massachusetts and has taken the lead with WSIP. “People were losing months confined to bed with pressure injuries,” she explained. “These tools can make a real difference when people get the information they need.”

A woman speaking holding a device next to a table with equipment and an UCP banner. There are balloons and food on a table in the foreground. Three men stand listening.

Louise Colbourne discusses portable roll-on scales in Pittsfield with (left to right) Josh Mendelsohn, MRC Assistant Commissioner for Community Living; Kobena Bonney, MassMATCH Program Coordinator; and UCP Berkshire Executive Director Salvatore Garozzo.

The open houses helped broadcast the availability of the equipment and celebrate the expansion of the project to Eastern Massachusetts. The AT Regional Center in Boston now also provides loans of WSIP equipment, and all three AT Regional Centers have an expanded variety of scales and pressure mapping systems suitable for all ages. “We’re looking forward to more people knowing we have these devices and taking advantage of the loan program,” said Boston ATRC Coordinator Catherine Bly.

In addition to scales for borrowing, the project has installed roll-on scales at four Independent Living Center locations in Central and Western Massachusetts. Robert Bilotta, the ATRC Coordinator in Worcester, reminded visitors that one of these scales is available at the Center for Living and Working (CLW) downstairs from the Worcester ATRC (located at Easter Seals in the Denholm Building). “So people can see the equipment available for borrowing here and also check out the roll-on scale at CLW while they are in the building. We have a lot of options now.”

A webinar training opportunity is in the works for early in 2019 on the use of pressure mapping technology. MassMATCH plans to record the event and upload the video to MassMATCH.org for consultation by interested borrowers and technicians for years to come.

“The Weight and Seating Independence Project hopes to fundamentally, positively impact health and quality of life for individuals with spinal cord injury and other disabilities,” Louise Colbourne said. “Please tell your friends and family and make use of this wonderful program. We are here to help.”

Keep up to date on the Weight and Seating Independence Project at this MassMATCH.org  WSIP webpage.

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