Opening the Door to Opportunity

by Alyssa Quintero on Wed, 2009-07-01 13:15

How to borrow AT devices from the MDA loan closet

Gaining access to assistive technology (AT) devices can be an arduous task, especially when funds are low and insurance coverage isn’t available.

Equipment loan and recycling programs aid people who want to try out different devices, or who need to borrow equipment while they’re waiting for a device to be approved by insurance, or who can’t afford to pay out-of-pocket.

MDA offers reused/recycled AT through its loan closets. Depending on availability, people registered with MDA can borrow — for free and for as long as they need them — used communication devices, computers, power wheelchairs, scooters, lifts and other technology. (Equipment must have been prescribed through an MDA clinic.)

MDA’s loan closets also enable people to try expensive technical equipment before making a decision. This is especially valuable with an eye-tracking communication system, where time is needed to ensure it’s a realistic option for the user.

When equipment is no longer needed, families are encouraged to return it to MDA for use by others.

Borrowing independence

For Tara Webb of Arroyo Grande, Calif., an equipment loan program has helped her reclaim independence — and her voice.

Tara Webb, who received a diagnosis of ALS in March 2004, uses a MyTobii eye-tracking communication device that she’s borrowing from an equipment loan program. Webb, who spends most of the day in bed, can produce speech, and communicate with doctors and caregivers. She also stays in touch with family and friends via the Internet.

Webb, 56, who cannot speak or use her arms and legs due to ALS, was denied Social Security benefits and doesn’t qualify for Medicare, so she relies on her private insurance for coverage. Unfortunately, her insurer has denied coverage for a communication device, despite appeals.

Luckily, the loan program had a device for Webb to borrow every time she needed something, “which made the frustration with the insurance company a bit more tolerable,” Webb wrote via e-mail.

During this time, Webb borrowed a Lightwriter and a Mercury device that she accessed via a foot switch. When her foot muscles deteriorated, she was put on the waiting list for an eye-tracking communication system.

After quite some time, an ERICA eye-tracking system became available, but Webb was unable to use it. So, she went back on the loan closet waiting list for a MyTobii system.

'Back on the radar’

After a year on the waiting list, Webb learned that the loan closet had a used MyTobii P10, a speech-generating device that also acts as a fully functioning computer.

While equipment availability varies nationwide. MDS's loan closets offer access to durable medical equipment, including communication devices, for people with ALS.

It was donated to the loan closet after the previous owner died; he received the device through insurance, and used it for almost two years to generate speech and play chess.

“It’s important for people to realize that [communication] systems that are no longer needed and just taking up room in their home could be life-changing for someone else if they choose to donate the equipment,” said Amy Roman, an augmentative communication specialist and speech-language pathologist at the Forbes-Norris MDA/ALS Research Center in San Francisco.

Since November, Webb has spent “almost every waking hour” on the device. She communicates with her nurses and visitors, writes e-mails, explores the Internet, shops, reads the newspaper, keeps in touch with her college-age daughter and monitors her Facebook page, where she has 130-plus friends.

“I’m able to e-mail my doctors, health care providers and business people directly with questions, concerns or problems,” Webb said. “I don’t have to do everything secondhand. I can carry on normal conversations, and I feel like I’m participating in my life and not just lying here watching everything pass me by. I feel alive and happy again.”

Now, she says, “the whole world is at my fingertips, actually at my eyes.”

Adds Roman, “She immediately starting shooting e-mails out to people, and all the neurologists were so happy to hear from her. It was dramatic to have Tara back on the radar.”

“I would be totally depressed and isolated again without it,” Webb says of her communication device, calling the loan program “a lifesaver.” She plans to continue donating unused equipment back to the loan closet, adding, “I plan to keep ‘paying it forward.’”

More help available

In addition to MDA’s equipment loan program, State Assistive Technology Act programs provide short-term equipment loans to people who want to try a device, or who need a device while they wait for insurance approval or financial assistance.

AT Act programs also offer recycling/reutilization programs that sanitize, refurbish and repair donated equipment (including durable medical equipment, and communication and mobility devices), that is then donated or sold at an affordable price. (Services and equipment availability vary from state to state.)

To locate the AT Act Program in your state, visit Resna’s National Assistive Technology Technical Assistance Partnership at Resna Projects, or call (703) 524-6686.

Some states participate in equipment exchange programs, which are much like online marketplaces with classified ads. These help match people who need equipment with people who have equipment to donate or sell.

The national Pass It On Center offers an online directory of reuse and exchange programs that’s searchable by state at Pass It On Centers. The resources include the state AT Act reuse programs, as well as programs offered by local nonprofit organizations, centers for independent living (CILs) and more. For more information, call (800) 497-8665.

Equipment funding assistance

Medicare will cover up to 80 percent of the cost for a communication device. MDA offers a one-time $2,000 grant for a communication device, wheelchair or leg braces prescribed through its clinics. MDA also provides $500 annually for repairs and modifications, including equipment and software upgrades.

To borrow equipment from an MDA loan closet, or to donate used equipment, contact your local MDA office at (800) 572-1717, or MDA Your Clinic.

For more information about AT loan programs and alternative funding options, check out these past Quest magazine stories and clicking on “Quest Back Issues.” Or, call your local MDA office and request a printed copy.

“Playing the Money Game: Funding Challenges and Options,” May-June 2008

“Use It & Pass It Along” (recycled equipment programs), January-February 2008

“Assistive Technology Funding Challenge,” January-February 2007

Alyssa Quintero
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