People with disabilities benefit from creative, inexpensive solutions to everyday needs.
ICS Rehab Engineer Bob Paradiso is a wizard with electronics. He can make hard-to-open refrigerator doors pop open with the push of a button, shades and medical beds go up and down with simple voice commands, and wheelchairs stop and start with the movement of an eye. How does he do it? Bob shares some of his secrets with host Stephanie Wallace in a new episode of ICS’s Independence Radio podcast series.
“A rehab engineer is someone who can create assistive technology for people, someone who will go to their home and see what they need help with,” Bob explains. “If they want to be able to use their TV or their phone, or if there’s anything they’re having trouble with, I go and try to make it so it’s easier for them to do those things.”
Sometimes the solutions are simple, Bob says, requiring the most basic mechanical adjustments to bring the inaccessible object within reach—the lowering of an appliance to wheelchair height, for example, or the lengthening of a handle to make opening something easier for hands that can’t grasp.
But many of Bob’s cases involve using more complex electronics to act as a “go-between” for the user who is having difficulty with a task. “Say they’re trying to control their TV but they’re having trouble hitting the buttons on their remote,” Bob says. “But their voice may be good, so I can add something in between that can ‘hear’ their voice and then it would change their voice command to control the TV, so they don’t need to press their remote anymore.”
Bob has a degree in computer science, but his love of electronics goes back to his childhood. “Ever since I was a kid, I enjoyed taking things apart, seeing how they worked and getting them to do different things. I started to realize this could be useful for people with disabilities. This could be more than just a fun kind of toy. This could be something someone really needs.”
His first attempt at assistive technology, in 2015, used eye-gaze technology to operate a power chair’s joystick functions. “A wheelchair is a pretty expensive piece of equipment,” Stephanie observes in the podcast. “Who let you touch their wheelchair?” Actually, Bob bought a used one for cheap on Craigslist before he went to town on its electronics.
While Bob is adept at improvising solutions to technological problems, a lot of them can be solved using already-available “off the shelf” technologies that he can configure for your home. “A common request I get is, people want to turn their lights on and off,” he says. “It’s a simple request but sometimes someone cannot reach the switch, so they depend upon someone else to do that. But if you have Amazon Echo, which is a voice-activated device, and you buy these light bulbs that can come with it, you can screw it in and … say, ‘Turn on the hallway lights, turn on kitchen light.’ And this is off the shelf. I don’t have to do anything other than plug it in and set it up.”
If you’re an ICS member who is interested in what Bob can do for you, talk to your care manager. He or she can put in a service authorization request to have Bob come to your home and see if there are technological solutions to your accessibility problems.
ICS will also be holding workshops in June where Bob will demonstrate assistive technologies: June 6, at ICS Brooklyn, and June 16 at ICS Bronx. Both go from 12:30 to 2:00 p.m. If you’re interested in attending either one, call 1.646.653.6279.
Listen to Bob’s podcast now available on Independence Radio!
Watch Bob’s interview on our Youtube channel!