The Cost of Unnessecarily Medicalizing Acts of Daily Life

A few weeks ago I found myself in the Occupational Therapy Kitchen of my local rehabilitation  hospital. My physiatrist was filming me demonstrating how I undertake various cooking tasks as a person with hemiplegia (to be shown to her medical students).

Cooking for me is both time consuming and laborious. It can take me nearly ten minutes to peel a single potato. Peeling even that one potato can leave my left wrist cramped and in pain. I generally avoid cooking anything that involves peeling vegetables as a result.

My doctor started out by having me demonstrate how I would normally complete a task by myself at home, which inevitably took me about three times longer than an able-bodied person.

Then she had me do the task over, using the adaptive kitchen gadgets that the hospital used for physiotherapy. While my actions were still slow and awkward, the tasks were completed more quickly and with greater ease. The usefulness of adapted tools for daily life cannot be fully described.

Much of the reason for this is that I and many people do not have access to them because they are prohibitively expensive. I suspect that part of the reason for this inflated cost is that they are marketed not as kitchen tools (or other adapted gadgets for dressing, cleaning, etc.) but as medical devices.

I doubt most people view their kitchen knives, pots or cutting boards as medical devices. I suspect even disabled people who have access to the adapted versions actually think of them that way.

Yet if you google “adapted cutting board”, you will come across companies like Patterson Medical, which sells adapted kitchenware along with other adapted devices for various acts of daily living. Patterson Medical does also sell more tradition medical devices such as splints.

The relegation of adapted devices to the almost sole domain of medical supply companies is that they become very expensive. A standard non adapted cutting board can be purchased in the price range of $10.00-$30:00 depending on size and material. A large Patterson Medical cutting board costs $66.00. For all that additional money, you get metal spikes to hold food still for cutting, suction cups on the bottom to hold the board steady and a corner with sides to keep bread still for spreading PB & J. None of these differences really justify the additional $30.00-$50.00. An additional $15.00 maybe to cover the extra material and labour.

Smaller ones can be purchased on Amazon for the still inflated price of $57.99 (and it’s not nearly as good). This one is sold by a company calling itself The Therapy Connection.

As a poor graduate student, most of my kitchen gadgets were either gleaned from my mother’s kitchen or bought at the dollar store. As such they have no adaptive qualities.

Not having access to affordable adaptive gadgets inevitably means doing without them. Meaning that access to tools that allow people to go through life more safely and conveniently is a luxury. A luxury should really be me coveting a Vitamix Blender. You know, a thing I want but will never have and can completely live without, without consequences.

A product that allows disabled people to do a task more safely and easily and at a closer approximation of how the rest of the world performs that task, should not be a luxury.

The thing is, these are products that can more often than not benefit everyone. They greatly reduce the risk of accidental self-injury while preparing food. By keeping them firmly relegated to “for disabled people”, they will never enter the mainstream where they may become more affordable.

One of the reasons for this is that everything about being disabled is medicalized. Nondisabled people avoid that association and view basic adaptations as oddities. They avoid using them themselves in any context other than voyeuristic experimentation. Consider the fascination with wheelchairs, scooters and crutches as long as they know they can walk away from them as an example.

Another non financial cost is that people who would benefit from such devices may not even know they exist. They are sold on the internet and at specialty stores. If you don’t have a strong disability peer network or helpful doctor. You may not know these things exist.

Keeping everything about disability labeled either medical or therapeutic, keeps them on the fringes and limits access.