Author of the article:Dave Battagello
Publishing date:Nov 22, 2022
Slowly making progress on getting changes secured with manufacturers on insulin pumps to accommodate those with vision loss, a local man is among those now focused on seeing new federal legislation put in place so all medical equipment must pass accessibility tests.
Ryan Hooey, 36, of Tecumseh has been dealing with diabetes since childhood and lost his eyesight almost overnight because of the disease roughly 10 years ago due to diabetic retinopathy.
Canada has one of the highest rates of retinopathy – 25.1 per cent of people living with diabetes – which is the leading cause of sight loss in working-age adults. An estimated 750,000 Canadians live with the condition.
Hooey, as with many diabetics, relies on insulin pumps for his diabetes treatment. But with his vision loss is unable to see the screen. There are not sufficient warning beeps, voice activation or other accessibility features that allow him to safely use the pumps on his own.
“You can’t even tell how much battery life is in my pump,” he said. “I have to put a can of insulin into the pump every three days and I can’t tell how much is left. Sighted folks can just look at the screen and say ‘oh, it’s 50 per cent full.'”
The insulin ratio on the pump also needs to be frequently adjusted based on the amount of carbohydrates he eats, but with Hooey unable to see the screen he can’t utilize that feature on his own “without many extra steps involved.”
Employed as a program leader with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, Hooey a couple years ago began playing a key role in lobbying manufacturers of insulin pumps to make accessibility changes.
Progress has since been made through several meetings with production companies, while other organizations have joined the effort such as Diabetes Canada and National Federation of the Blind across the border in the U.S., he said.
But Hooey has learned many of the desired accessibility changes can’t be made without Health Canada creating a design blueprint for the insulin pumps.
“So, we have had to start working with the government,” Hooey said.
The first step is to get a petition with 500 signatures – an effort he launched at the start of this month – so legislation can next be created and introduced by an MP in the House of Commons. The goal is to have all medical equipment, not just insulin pumps, be required to meet accessibility standards, he said.
“We are starting with insulin pumps, but there are so many other things (medical equipment) accessibility-wise where changes are needed for the disabled community,” Hooey said. “You have a large group of people affected by this.”
Local MP Irek Kusmierczyk (L – Windsor-Tecumseh) is supportive and has already met with Hooey.
“I hosted Ryan in Ottawa and got a chance to hear his story,” he said. “It really took me aback in terms of listening to the effort required to use insulin pumps by Canadians who have vision loss. You often have to get family or friends to be able to enter the data or see what it says.
“What ought to be a minute interaction with the pump, you have to coordinate with others. For those without family or friends to help, there is a risk of pushing a wrong button or entering information that can lead to bad consequences.”
Kusmierczyk afterwards did communicate with the federal health minister Jean-Yves Duclos to share Hooey’s story and another fellow Liberal MP who is chairperson of the all-party government caucus team in the midst of developing a national framework for diabetes in Canada within the next couple years.
Beyond that, the local MP says he will work towards ensuring all medical equipment does not pose accessibility issues.