Assistive technology solutions can be priceless, but are never free. A screen reader that makes a computer accessible to a blind student might cost $1,000.
Fortunately, as government regulations mandate much of the access these devices provide, federal and state agencies usually foot the bill. When they can't, disabled consumers have options for getting what they need for free or at a lower cost. Here are eight examples.
1. Special Education
Schools buy assistive technology for disabled students who are in a special education program with an Individual Education Plan (IEP). Schools usually identify a student's special needs in early intervention programs such as Head Start. It's up to the student and his or her parents whether special education is the ideal solution.
Check with local schools and your state's education department to learn more. Other resources include the National Early Childhood Technical Assistance System (919.962.2001) and the TAPP Focus Center on Assistive Technology (800.222.7585).
If a student does not qualify for, or refuses special education, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 provides a path to procuring assistive devices. Schools lose federal funding if they discriminate against a student with a disability.
2. Vocational Rehabilitation
Vocational rehabilitation programs provide resources to help disabled students become self-sufficient adults. This includes subsidizing college tuition and providing adaptive devices and training. College disability services offices can also assist students in locating and using assistive technology.
After college, Transition Programs assist students with job placement and training, sometimes including assistive devices in an Individualized Transition Plan. Contact your state's Parent Training and Information Center (PTI) to learn more.
3. Disability Organizations
Disability organizations sometimes offer assistive technology for a nominal fee. For example, the Texas Center for the Physically Impaired (TCPI) provides refurbished Windows XP desktop computers to blind and visually impaired people in the US and Canada for a $100 donation-one most schools or local charities would gladly cover. The machine comes with speakers, sound card, and demo versions of the screen reader Window Eyes and the ZoomText magnification program, as well as a seven-tape computer tutorial.
4. Fraternal Organizations
Many fraternal organizations such as local chapters of Lions Clubs International, the Knights of Columbus, March of Dimes, and the United Way, will often purchase assistive technology on request. Some organizations' missions include helping people with specific disabilities. The Lions Clubs, for example, help the blind and visually impaired.
If you need technology to do your job, it may constitute a reasonable accommodation that your employer must provide. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates accessible workplaces. This might mean closed captioning during meetings, a larger monitor, or voice recognition software. Other job-related funding options include employer-sponsored health insurance and flexible spending accounts where employees can set aside pre-tax income for health-related expenses.
6. Government Programs
Disabled people receiving Social Security can obtain technology through the Administration's Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS) program, which enables income set-asides to fund work-related goals such as education, vocational training, or assistive technology. Individuals who set aside Supplemental Security Income via PASS may receive additional SSI payments to cover living expenses.
Another Social Security incentive program, the Impairment-Related Work Expense (IRWE), enables employees receiving SSI or SSDI to deduct work-related expenses from gross income. This enables the employee to continue receiving benefits if the IRWE amount keeps income below the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) Test. This enables individuals to buy assistive devices with their own money.
People who are deaf or hard of hearing may qualify for funds to purchase communications devices such as TTY phones under the Telecommunications Assistance Program (TAP), part of the Telecommunications Equipment Purchase Program (TEPP).
Tips on Buying Your Own Technology
7. Assistive Technology Loan Programs
Many states offer low-interest loans under the Alternative Financing Technical Assistance Project (AFTAP). This program, run by the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA) helps states establish loan programs under Title III of the Assistive Technology Act of 1998. The RESNA website lists loan programs by state. Many manufacturers also offer discounts and financing. Many nonprofits offer grants. In Massachusetts, the Association of Blind Citizens' Assistive Technology Fund pays half the retail price for equipment applicants seek to purchase.
8. Try Before You Buy
Many organizations demonstrate assistive devices and sometimes loan out or sell products at reduced cost. This disabled people identify the most cost-effective solution. Assistive Technology in New Hampshire at the University of New Hampshire's Institute on Disability offers training, loaner equipment, and low-cost funding alternatives. Check education and vocational rehabilitation departments in your state to learn what's available.
9. Buying Used Equipment
Buying used or refurbished equipment is far less expensive and still provides the necessary functionality. Lack of use prompts many sales, so most second-hand products have a lot of life left in them. Check the websites of agencies in your state. Many feature sections for buying and selling used equipment.