In the world of assistive technology (AT), communication devices, mobility aids, adapted vehicles and home modifications are all costly, and Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance don’t always cover their purchase.
Here are some assistive technology funding resources that can help ease the financial burden.
State assistive technology act programs
If you need AT funding assistance, start by contacting your state’s federally funded Assistive Technology Act program. These programs, which operate in all states, work to improve access to AT products and services.
State AT programs are the experts at putting people in touch with local AT resources and providing information about funding sources. They also offer loan and equipment exchange programs.
“Your first call should be to your state AT program because they can serve as that first line of contact for people looking for AT information,” said Nell Bailey, project director for RESNA’s (Rehabilitation, Engineering & Assistive Technology Society of North America) Technical Assistance Project.
“The state AT projects have the greatest, broadest knowledge of assistive technology products, devices and services,” said John Moore, assistant director of the Texas Technology Access Program. “They know where all the funding sources are in the state and the suppliers of assistive technology.”
Short-term equipment loan programs
Through the State AT Act Projects, short-term equipment loan programs enable people with disabilities to try a device, at little or no cost, before they purchase it on their own or while they’re attempting to secure funding.
Equipment loan programs also provide replacement devices to people with disabilities when their own devices are on order or being repaired. These loans can be extended on a case-by-case basis.
Loan equipment generally includes: AAC devices, computer access devices/software, wheelchairs, environmental control units (ECUs), adapted equipment for the workplace, durable medical equipment and personal care aids.
Alternative financing programs
A little-known funding option is the Alternative Financing Program (AFP), a federal/state loan program available in 33 states that grants low-interest loans to people with disabilities, their parents, relatives or advocates in order to purchase AT equipment or services.
People who don’t qualify for traditional bank loans may find AFPs more receptive to their applications. They make allowances for poor credit, especially if it’s related to a person’s disability.
“Loan financing programs have proven to be an alternative of great potential in relieving this burden of cost,” said Joey Wallace, a public policy analyst and executive director of Virginia’s Assistive Technology Loan Fund Authority (ATLFA).
The loans are commonly us+ed to purchase big-ticket items, including adaptive vehicles, home modifications, computer hardware/software, communication devices, and mobility equipment (scooters and power or manual wheelchairs).
In the event a person with ALS passes before the loan’s paid in full, “the family is still responsible for paying the loan, but we understand this, and we’ll try to work with the family,” said Sue Castles, loan program coordinator for the Illinois TechConnect Program.
“We’re [AFP] more flexible than a bank because we’re not a bank. We’re still a human services agency.”
Castles explained that five years is a typical loan term for most devices, including AAC devices. A person could, however, finance a new adapted vehicle for up to 10 years.
Many AFPs ask people “what they feel like they can afford to pay.” She added that the Illinois TechConnect program would work with a person who receives his or her income from SSI or SSDI, but that those loans tend to be smaller.
MDA assists with the purchase of communication devices prescribed by MDA clinic physicians.
Your local independent living center also has valuable information about AT funding sources in your area. And, if you’re still working, check with your state Department of Vocational Rehabilitation to determine what types of AT qualify for coverage in order to maintain employment.
For example, Wayne Phillips of Santa Barbara, Calif., received funding assistance from the California Department of Rehabilitation Services. Phillips, 47, who received a diagnosis of ALS in 1989, continued to work as a software engineer after vocational rehab paid for his adaptive computer equipment.
And, if you’re a veteran with ALS, the Veterans Administration may provide funding for AT devices.
Furthermore, if you’re looking to purchase used equipment at a lower cost, one option is ATmatch.com. It’s a marketplace where donors and sellers can locate buyers for a wide range of AT and durable medical products.
People can list a product, auction it or sell it for a set price. Currently, 18 State AT Act Projects have signed on as partners in the project, including the Texas Technology Access Program. Anyone can browse the site, and registration is free.
Department of Veterans Affairs
DisabilityInfo.gov — Tech Grants & Funding
Independent Living Research Utilization Directory of Centers
Independent Living USA
RESNA — Alternative Financing Technical Assistance Project
RESNA — National AT Technical Assistance Partnership
State Departments of Vocational Rehabilitation
(Or check your telephone directory under “State Listing.”)