Equipment Corner January 2007

by Alyssa Quintero on Mon, 2007-01-01 09:16

Paying for assistive technology: Make alternative financing work for you

It's never too early to start obtaining assistive technology (AT) equipment and services. Realistic financial planning can make time your ally and reduce frustration when it comes to purchasing pricey equipment that can enhance your quality of life.

When Robert Wolf of Ambler, Pa., received a diagnosis of ALS in June 2004, he immediately started to prepare for his AT needs, including home modifications. Wolf knew he couldn't waste any time.

Wolf, 53, who lives in a one-story ranch house with his wife, Janice, decided to make extensive modifications to his existing home rather than look for a new place to live that was accessible.

"With ALS you have very little control," Wolf explained. "What you do have control over is readying conditions and trying to anticipate what you're going to need. We looked at what home modifications were needed to keep moving forward without making it difficult for my wife and caregivers in the future."

Wolf, who has limb-onset ALS, isn't using a wheelchair — yet — but he recently borrowed a power wheelchair to see what types of home modifications he needed.

"I maneuvered it around the house to see where the pitfalls were, so we used that as a gauge to help us decide what would work and what had to be changed. It was purely by experiment that we figured out what we needed," Wolf said.

Wolf consulted with Interiors for Independence, and he worked with Marlene Weiner, company founder and licensed occupational therapist. She made suggestions and recommendations that helped move Wolf's plan into the construction stage.

Some of the modifications included: widening doorways; bathroom modifications; an enlarged master bedroom for more access; a wheelchair ramp in the garage for access to an adapted vehicle; and a concrete walkway that's ramped up to the patio for backyard access.

Thus, even before Wolf's in a wheelchair fulltime, his house will be equipped for universal access.

Now, how do you pay for a project like this?

The financing issue

As with purchasing any AT equipment and services, the expenses can mount quickly. Luckily, Wolf learned about the Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Foundation's (PATF) alternative financing program (AFP) before he began construction.

In "Accessing and Acquiring Assistive Technology" (November-December 2006), we first told you about the AFP, a federal/state loan program available in 33 states that grants low-interest loans to people with disabilities to help fund AT equipment and services.

The loans are commonly used to purchase big-ticket items, including adaptive vehicles, home modifications, computer hardware/software, communication devices and mobility equipment (scooters and power or manual wheelchairs).

Because ALS can take a toll on a family's finances, Wolf saw this as a great opportunity to get the project moving without paying a huge amount of interest, as one would with a traditional bank loan.

"I wasn't looking for a handout, but I was looking for something that would be low interest that would help get us over the hump in terms of the modifications," Wolf explained.

The loan process lasted about three weeks, and Wolf emphasized: "That was actually the easiest and most con-venient part of this whole process. Once I passed the litmus test as far as the loan criteria, it was just a piece of cake."

With a manageable monthly payment - thanks to a low interest rate - Wolf says the hardest part, at least for his wife, was living with the mess brought by the modifications.

Wolf recommends the alternative financing program to others with ALS who are confronting similar challenges with AT purchases because the program offers "flexibility toward funding anything that assists with your disability needs."

"The financial arrangement is very good because you're locked in at a 4 percent interest rate," Wolf added. "That in itself is a substantial savings right there. It really could be instrumental in helping a lot of people complete a project like this."

Planning ahead

In addition to planning ahead for a speech-communication device or a power wheelchair, it's a good idea to think about home modifications that will be necessary for you to keep living comfortably in your home.

Robert Wolf
Robert Wolf shows the ramp being added to his garage that will give him ready passage between his house and his accessible van.

People on fixed incomes or those who don't qualify for traditional bank loans may find AFPs more receptive to their applications. AFPs also make allowances for poor credit, especially if it's related to a person's disability.

The interest rates and alternative financing loan programs may vary from state to state, so be sure to visit the RESNA (Rehabilitative Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America) Web site (resna.org) to locate your state program's contact information.

To make this process a bit easier, Wolf recommends that you make a financial plan as early as possible following a diagnosis and anticipate your AT needs, which may range from a power wheelchair and a communication device to an adapted vehicle and home modifications.

"What people need to focus on is the flexibility of this type of loan," he said. "It really is the best of all worlds because you can do low-interest financing for lifts, ramps, home modifications, vehicles, you name it. It's ideal for people who are worried about their day-to-day finances and just need a longer-term picture to be able to get through it."

It's never too early to plan.

Alyssa Quintero
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