Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer
Assistive Devices

Assistive Devices

I’m amazed when I stop and think about how many “assistive devices” I now have in my life. I’m not talking about canes, crutches, or walkers (although I own all of those and have used then on occasion after joint surgery). I’m talking about everyday items that I have purposely bought to make my life (with RA) easier.

I first talked about assistive devices a few years ago when the now-ubiquitous Kindle readers were introduced. I was thrilled because I no longer had to wear my hated reading glasses to enjoy my favorite books. Instead, I was a cool, trendy, tech-friendly person with the latest gadget. The Kindle allows me to adjust the size of the type to a comfortable reading level and lets me pretend my eyes are a lot younger than they are.

Probably my first (and still most-important) assistive device is the ergonomic chair in my office. It provides adjustments for the seat, back angle, tension, arm rests and multiple other things to support good posture and proper working position. I can’t sit for long at the computer without it or my keyboard wrist support.

My next important assistive device was my new refrigerator with the freezer on the bottom. This raises the refrigerated food portion up to eye level. I no longer have to bend over to load groceries or to see what’s in the fridge (a great boon to my back where I have had two spinal fusion surgeries). The freezer portion rolls out in a drawer, which makes it also easy to access.

The fridge was quickly followed by new front-load washer and dryer on stands. While the stands act as storage drawers for laundry supplies, they also raise the washer and dryer to a height that makes them easy to load and unload. No more straining or pulling heavy, wet mounds of clothes. This helps not only my back, but my hands and shoulders.

The latest assistive device is my new car. When my husband’s auto lease came up earlier this year, I convinced him he should take over my low-slung car which was becoming increasingly difficult (and physically painful) for me to get in and out of. I bought a new Nissan Juke. While it really is a cute car with lots of features, the main reason I picked it is that the seats are at a level that I can just slide into – I no longer have to physically climb in and out of the car. In addition, the floor of the hatch back is a height just below waist level. This makes it easy to transfer groceries or other items into the car and to unload them. I’m no longer lifting heavy packages – more sliding them in and out.

These items are not what you first imagine when you hear the words “assistive devices” and yes, I do have “real” assistive devices. When I had hip replacement surgery a few years ago, my husband installed hand rails next to our toilets to help me get up and down. These have come in handy not only for my subsequent knee surgeries, but on those days when I’m in a flare and need all the help I can get.

But the point is, with RA you need to think about ways that make your life easier on your joints. This includes not only health-related things like medication, diet and exercise. This should also encompass everything in your daily life – things like appliances and vehicles. As you go about your routine, stop and think about those things that bother you (or worse, actually hurt). Then think about what can make them better. Perhaps it’s as simple as hand-friendly cooking utensils or a rolling laundry basket. Life is tough. It’s tougher if you have RA. It’s our job to figure out how to make it easier.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Sharon Fritz
    4 years ago

    I would really like to know about your office chair and where to get one. Please and Thank you.

  • Carla Kienast author
    4 years ago

    Hi Sharon: The great news is that ergonomic chairs are far more available now than they were even a couple of years ago. They’re available from a wide range of places including office supply stores, regular furniture stores, and even big-box discount stores like Sam’s or Costco. My recommendation is to be sure and sit in the chair before you buy it. Make sure it has the adjustments you want and that they’re easy to use. At a minimum, the seat height should raise and lower and the chair should provide good back support. My chair has adjustments for how far the back will tilt, a lumbar “pad” that moves up and down, as well as arm rests that can be raised or lowered. If you just do an online search for ergonomic office chairs, you’ll get a multitude of choices that should help you narrow down your search to the features you want and the $$$ you want to pay. But again, please don’t buy anything without actually sitting in the chair. This is as important as trying on a pair of shoes before you buy them. If you find one you like you can also do an online search for reviews of the chair which I find helpful Good luck! PS: I got my Knoll Aeron chair several years ago through my husband’s architectural firm. It’s great but there are a lot of really good — and more affordable — options out there now.

  • Mary Blooms
    4 years ago

    Carla, when our last child started college we sold our 5 bedroom, 2 story home that was too big for us and the stairs were getting too much for me. We then bought a one story “age in place” home. The house is “zero entry” There are no steps any where coming in the house or any stairs. All the toilets are elevated, bars are placed in the bathroom near the toilet, tubs and in the shower. The shower is large enough to put a wheelchair in. It also has a seat in it. I gave up the extra sink as it was off on its own and had it left as a “vanity” so I could sit when I got ready.

    When it was time to choose appliances I choose a refrigerator with the freezer on the bottom that roll out. I can stand up to pick out or.put away food, The kitchen has drawers that slide out, so no bending to find a pan. All the door are wide as is the main hallway in case there is a need for a wheelchair. The doors all have handles not knobs.

    Of course not everyone with RA can just pick and move, but I wish I had made some of these changes earlier to my old house as it wold have made my life easier!

  • Carla Kienast author
    4 years ago

    Okay, now I’m jealous. We live in a one-level house and have added grab bars as I’ve had knee and hip replacements. As we’ve remodeled I’ve also replaced all the knobs with levers. But we’re no where as equipped as you sound. Thanks for sharing this. I hope it gives others some great ideas as they have the opportunity to make changes in their own homes.

  • Karen
    4 years ago

    Carla, I have a few assistive devices too. I really like the heated the seats in the car. The heated blanket on my bed. The bean bags in the freezer I use as ice packs.
    The area I am bad in is the kitchen. I have a food processor that sits on the counter that is used constantly. I have a mandolin, awesome knives, stick blender, heavy duty mixer, electric can opener, and other good kitchen toys to make my life easier. I have a freezer so that I can make food and freeze it.
    The guys can just grab a container of food and head out the door with their lunch. Or have something when I am not feeling good enough to cook.
    My all around best kitchen helper is my husband and sons. They have taken over doing the real heavy duty stuff that will kill my hands.
    Seriously, it has taken me years to convince my mom she would be better with a good knife, one that can be kept sharp, than the old steak knife she uses to cut. Everything. I think she has the same potato peeler I bought when I was in high school!

    You are much better off when you have the correct tools to do a job. It is hard to do things when you are already challenged by useless tools, not to mention painful hands.

  • Carla Kienast author
    4 years ago

    I love the “husband and sons” comment! I have a helpful husband as well, but if you could let us know what store to get those wonderful sons, I’d appreciate it. (Ha!) Sounds like you have a great focus on the right tools.

  • Poll