Findings and Recommendations from Whilrwind’s Assistive Technology Research on the Navajo Reservation

February 26, 2013

Kim at the Canyon de Chelly

Kim at the Canyon de Chelly

Kim D. Reisinger, Ph.D, director of Whirlwind’s Assistive Technology Research (ATR) Division,  recently concluded a major survey research project on the awareness of, access to, and acquisition of low-cost, high-quality Assistive Technology (AT) devices and services on the Navajo Nation.  The research was funded by a grant from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research   (NIDRR).   Check out the full article that appeared in The Navajo Post on February 14th below.

Navajo Nation Looks to Help the Disabled with Better Mobility and Access

As published in The Navajo Post on 2/14/13

WINDOW ROCK – A two year project is being completed by the assistive technology research division of San Francisco State University’s Whirlwind Wheelchair International.

On Feb 8, Navajo lawmakers received the report of the results and the research itself.

According to Jerome Clark, he said the study showed, Navajo individuals with disabilities feel further disabled by a lack of accommodating infrastructure on the Navajo Nation, which they say limits their participation in daily life, and affects their roles, activities, relationships, and emotions.

The study is titled, Evaluation of Provision of Wheelchairs, Prosthetics and Orthotics, Hearing Aids, Vision Aids and Communication Aids on the Navajo Nation. The principle investigator of the study Kim D. Reisinger, Ph. D. said a few of the research project’s goals were to “assess the awareness of, access to, and acquisition of low-cost, high-quality AT devices and services on the Navajo reservation.”

Reisinger also said that participants are frustrated, discouraged, and disheartened by the inability to use their homes in safe and functional ways,” citing the absence of ramps, safety equipment such as handrails, and inaccessible spaces inside their homes.

Overall, there is a “general lack of awareness on what disability is, what it means, and how AT devices can improve lives,” Reisinger said, adding that participants held a general feeling of not being understood by society.

Participants provided recommendations to help individuals with disabilities attain an enhanced quality of life on the Navajo Nation.

Among the recommendations mentioned were: improving community-wide disability awareness; training local personnel to install and repair ramps, rails, and other modifications to improve accessibility; establishing a mobile service and repair unit for assistive technology devices; and investigating and redefining roles that community health representatives can play in supporting people with disabilities.

Council Delegate Charles Damon,II (Bááháálí, Chichiltah, Manuelito, Tsé Łichíí’), thanked Reisinger for pointing out the challenges that Navajo individuals with disabilities face, as it resounded with his own observations and with what he has heard directly from this affected population on the reservation.

Delegate Damon said, “Thank you for bringing to the surface the sentiments of the Navajo people on this topic. We are aware of most of the things you brought to our attention, but what we need to do is get together with individuals to provide education on optimizing use of their assistive devices.”

The committee has held recent discussions with the Navajo Nation Division of General Services to perform the necessary modifications to increase accessibility of governmental buildings for individuals with disabilities, said Council Delegate Jonathan Hale (Oak Springs, St. Michaels), committee chair.

“We need to consider the inclusion of accessibility features in future developments, but right now the Nation is facing financial constraints due to the upcoming impacts of the federal sequester,” said Delegate Hale to Riesinger. “However, moving forward, we will use your research to address the issues and concerns with area health providers.”

The committee plans to follow-up with leadership from the Navajo Division of Health and health care providers to develop policies that will address needs and factors identified in the research project by individuals with disabilities on the Navajo Nation.

Additionally, Delegate Hale stated he and the committee would like for the Division of General Services to begin looking at how they can implement governmental building modifications across the Navajo Nation to will comply with codes mandating that buildings be accessible to individuals with disabilities.