With advancements in Internet technology, it’s easy to think the difficulties people with disabilities have with getting from place to place can be solved by the Internet. After all, people can telecommute to work, have a virtual doctor’s visit and shop online.
But the reality for people with disabilities in rural Utah is more complicated, as reporter JoLynne Lyon discovered in a series of interviews with experts and people with disabilities from around the state. If virtual services for people with disabilities were the subject of a bad quiz show, it might sound something like this.
John: Welcome to our quiz show, “Why can’t you do this at home?” We will explore how the Internet does—and does not—help people with disabilities in Rural Utah become more independent.
Let’s meet our panel. We have Sarah Knight, with a telehealth platform that helps school districts provide mental health services to students in rural districts.
Sarah: Our company is called Cogtrium. It’s kind of like Skype, but with Cogtrium we are actually HIPPA certified and compliant.
John: Allison Richman and Paul Davis are with the Bear River Association of Governments. Allison, you’re a mobility specialist, and Paul?
Paul: I started with BRAG about five years ago in a business expansion and retention program, and kind of a spinoff of that was telemedicine.
John: And Cyndi Rowland is with the Center for Persons with Disabilities
Cyndi: Some of the projects that I direct address technology and disability. But very specifically it’s about the access that people have to those things that are common in our everyday world, like the Internet.
John: Let’s move on to our first question. What potential does the internet have to improve health and education services in rural areas?
Sarah: With the telehealth systems you can cut down that travel time, you can get the one on one interaction.
Paul: It was a subject that was near and dear to my heart because about that same time my mom had mobility issues. And every time she went to see the doctor, we had to transport her to the doctor’s office. Well, that seemed really dumb to me when the technology is out there to be able to take care of somebody when it’s basically a routine office visit.
John: So why can’t people with disabilities just get their health care at home, and online?
Allison: We have people who can’t afford the internet, so they don’t have it in their homes.
Cyndi: We know that the presence of a disability that impacts computer and internet use isn’t horribly uncommon. It’s about 8 and one half percent of the population. They call it the digital divide for a reason, and folks with disabilities, even 20 years after the field has been attending to this, are still being left behind.
Paul: Very very little technology has gotten out to the persons that ought to be the focus. It basically is very friendly to your average milennial. It’s not a stumbling block to them, but the person that doesn’t have that technology really hasn’t taken advantage of it at all.
Cyndi: One of the issues that rural Utahns, well anyone in rural America, faces in a greater degree than anybody else in America is lack of access to consistent, stable broadband internet. Folks in rural areas are still struggling with having that kind of access right now.
Like most Americans, I do a lot of Amazon shopping. If you’re in rural America and if you’re a person with a disability, that may not be available to you, accessible to you.
Sarah: The big thing about why so many clinicians have not moved and jumped to the telehealth, is because the majority of those companies are not HIPPA compliant. And then there is the side that is HIPPA compliant, they are good companies, but those companies are very, very expensive. They provide the telehealth platform, but then they also do the data and everything else, and you’re buying their system.
We want to be able to get this out to everybody. This shouldn’t be just those places that have lots of money and lots of patients.
[Cue theme show music]
John: We’d like to thank our panelists.
Now, for part two of “Why can’t you do this at home,” we will be talking to Carol Scholes, the mother of adult children with disabiltiies, and Connie Perhrson, a woman in Lewiston who needs dialysis three times a week.
Here’s our first question: if it is so hard to receive services in rural Utah, why don’t you just move?
Well, I love it here. It’s my home, it always has been. My parents passed away and my sisters and I inherited the ranch and so now I’m a rancher.
Thank you, Carol. Our next question: How would life be if you could do everything from home, like shopping and health care?
Connie: I would go nuts. I would go crazy because I need to get out. I love to be out and about. Imprisoned behind these four walls all day, every day, is not the kind of life I want to live.
John: Thank you for playing, “Why Can’t You Do This At Home?” And have a great week!
People with disabilities who are living in rural Utah and are in need of medical and other services, finding access isn’t all fun and games. Despite advancements in technology including telemedicine, provider information, and improvements in transportation, barriers remain.
To find out more about accessibility and services offered to people with disabilities via the internet:
WebAIM and the National Center on Disability and Access to Education both work to improve access to technology. They are both located in the Center for Persons with Disabilities.
Cogtrium is a national network of certified healthcare providers who work with individuals with cognitive disorders.
The Bear River Association of Governments provides a range of services to people in Northern Utah.
Voice talent: John Northup of WebAIM
Music credit: "Happy Happy Game Show" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
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