About Funding for Assistive Technology

Finding funding for assistive technology (AT) devices and services can be challenging. You may not be eligible for a program because of age, income or type of disability; or the device you need or want may not be covered by the program for which you DO qualify. You may need to find assistance from several programs, and put those resources together in order to come up with the funding for the AT you need. PIAT's Information and Assistance may be able to help you find funding resources for the assistive technology you need.

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Consumer's Guide to Funding Assistive Technology

A tremendous variety of assistive technology (AT) is now available to enable people with disabilities to live independently, to achieve higher levels of education, to participate in activities of the workplace, and to engage in hobbies and recreational activities. When people with disabilities and their families seek to purchase these products, they often find that AT products can be expensive and that locating and obtaining financial assistance to purchase them can be a frustrating experience. Funding is often difficult to find and may seem to be unavailable. Even when people with disabilities and their families locate a source of funding, they are often confronted with a maze of eligibility requirements, restrictions, paperwork, rules, regulations, and denials and refusals. This Informed Consumer Guide discusses a broad range of potential sources of funding and funding information for assistive technology and provides lists of specific organizations and programs from which funding and funding information are available. The guide also discusses other sources of information on funding issues and organizations that assist people to find the funds that they need.

Sources of Funding Information and Assistance

A range of public, private and non-profit organizations assists people seeking funding to purchase AT. While most of these organizations do not offer financial assistance themselves, they can provide information on available funding sources as well as strategies for applying to receive funding. Some of these organizations are national in scope, while others serve a specific state or region.

State Assistive Technology Projects

Each U.S. state and territory has a federally-funded assistive technology project with up-to-date information on assistive technology resources in that state. The state AT project should be the first source of information consulted by state residents seeking financial assistance to purchase assistive products.
In addition to information about financial assistance within their respective states, some state assistive technology projects offer funding programs such as low-interest loans for the purchase of assistive products. Some state AT projects also offer other types of assistance, including direct provision of assistive products; equipment loans, with which equipment owned by the project may be borrowed for short- or long-term use; and equipment exchanges, with which used products can be obtained at a discount or free of charge.
The ABLEDATA Web site offers a State Assistive Technology Projects Resource Center with updated contact information on each state’s AT project. In Appendix A of this guide, there is a complete list of the state assistive technology projects with contact information that is current as of October 2007.

Centers for Independent Living

Centers for Independent Living (CILs) are local or regional organizations managed and staffed by individuals with disabilities that provide information and support to help individuals with disabilities live independently in the local community. CILs do not provide direct funding, but they are excellent sources of information about funding resources available locally. There are too many local Centers for Independent Living to include a complete list in this Guide; however, the following sources provide contact information for most CILs:

ABLEDATA Funding Resource Center

The ABLEDATA Web site offers a Funding Resource Center in the "Resources" area of the site. The Funding Resource Center lists organizations at the national, state, and local levels that actually provide funding for the purchase of assistive products or are sources of funding-related information. Full contact information is provided for each organization or program.
Note: ABLEDATA is an information resource only. ABLEDATA does not provide any funding of any kind.

Sources of Funding

Funding for assistive technology can be found from both public and private sources. Some funding programs are specifically designed to support the purchase of needed assistive products. Others may provide for the acquisition of one or more products as part of a larger purpose, such as enabling a child with disabilities to participate in school or an adult with disabilities to perform a job. Still more provide funding to adapt commercial products for use by people with disabilities. The sources of funding for assistive technology described below cover a broad range of options available to anyone seeking to purchase assistive products or to adapt a product for use by a person with a disability.

Alternative Financing Programs

Since 2000, the U.S. government has supported the establishment of state-based Alternative Financing Programs (AFPs) to provide funding to offset the cost of assistive technology that can enhance the ability of people with disabilities to participate in activities in the home, at work, at school, and in the community. AFPs include Assistive Technology Loan Programs funded under Title III of the Assistive Technology Act of 1998, and Access to Telework Loan Programs funded under the under section 303(b) of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended. Federal AFP grants to the states are administered by the U.S. Department of Education’s Rehabilitation Services Administration.

Assistive Technology Loan Programs

Assistive Technology Loan Programs may offer several types of loans for AT services, equipment, or training, including home or vehicle modifications. Each state’s program decides which types of loans to offer as part of its program. The types of loans offered include:
  • Direct Loans that are provided by the AT loan program itself
  • Guaranteed Loans that are provided by banks to people with disabilities who would not qualify for loans without the program providing the bank with a guarantee that the loan will be repaid
  • Interest Rate Buy-down Loans for which the program pays a fee to the commercial lender to reduce the interest rate on the loan
  • Principal buy-down Loans for which the AT loan program pays part of the loan’s principal.
Each state’s AT loan program is funded in part by a Federal grant.

Access to Telework Loan Programs

Individuals with disabilities experience many barriers to employment, including inadequate transportation, fatigue, inaccessible work environments, and the need for personal assistance. For many individuals with disabilities, one way that these barriers can be reduced or eliminated is through telework. Access to Telework Loan programs provide loans to people with disabilities to allow them to purchase computers and other equipment so that they either become self-employed or are able to work from home or other remote sites as employees or contractors. The loans can be made to support full-time or part-time employment.
Access to Telework Loans are provided through alternative financing mechanisms, such as low-interest loan funds; interest buy-down programs; revolving loan funds; loan guarantee or insurance programs; and programs operated by a partnership among private entities for the purchase, lease, or other acquisition of computers and other equipment, including adaptive equipment. As with other loans, the borrower must demonstrate an ability to repay before the loan will be made. Access to Telework Loan programs are funded in part by federal grants to states and Indian tribes.
For more information on the Alternative Financing Programs, visit the Alternative Financing Technical Assistance Project’s (AFTAP’s) Web site at http://www.resna.org/AFTAP/. AFTAP provides detailed descriptions of each state’s AFP, information and statistics on each AFP’s lending practices as well as success stories describing how individuals with disabilities used AFP loans to enhance their lives.
ABLEDATA’s Alternative Financing Programs Resource Center provides current contact information on each state’s AFP. A list of Alternative Financing Programs for each state and territory, with complete contact information updated as of October 2007, can be found below in Appendix B.

Insurance

Medicare, Medicaid, private health or disability insurance, and Worker’s Compensation may pay for some assistive technology. In most cases, a demonstration of the medical necessity for the product or equipment and a prescription from a doctor or other professional will be required. Applying for funding from any private or public insurance program may be difficult as the applicant usually must be very familiar with the application process and the program’s regulations. Below, this guide provides a section entitled, “The Application Process,” that can provide some guidance and other tips that may be especially helpful when applying for funding from insurance programs.

Schools and Educational Systems

For a child with disabilities, local school districts may pay for devices and auxiliary aids used by the child if the products are necessary for that child to function in the classroom. Parents must be prepared to demonstrate how the device will enhance their child’s ability to obtain an appropriate education in the least restrictive environment possible, which is the legal requirement under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Under IDEA, each public school child who receives special education and related services must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that describes the goals set for the child for each school year, as well as any special supports that are needed to help achieve those goals. The IEP is developed jointly by teachers, parents, school administrators, related services personnel, and students (when appropriate). Including a detailed justification for the purchase of one or more assistive products in a child’s IEP is one of the most frequently used methods to obtain funding for the product(s) from a school system. The “Publications” list at the conclusion of this Guide includes publications on AT funding in schools.

Vocational Rehabilitation and Other Sources to Fund AT for Employment

State vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies will often pay for assistive technology if the technology will enhance the worker’s ability to prepare for, get, or keep a job. Many VR agencies are more likely to pay for AT to help a worker keep a job than to help a worker prepare for a possible job. In some states, the agency may also pay for AT even if employment is not an expected outcome, as long the device will improve the individual’s ability to function independently. In most cases, the person seeking assistance is required to meet eligibility requirements and be a client of the agency. The ABLEDATA Vocational Rehabilitation Resource Center on the ABLEDATA Web site provides contact information for state vocational rehabilitation agencies.
Some private and public employers may also provide funding to purchase assistive products for use by their employees with disabilities in the workplace. In fact, purchase of AT may be required as a reasonable accommodation for an employee with a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Job Accommodation Network (http://www.jan.wvu.edu/), funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, provides a free consulting service to aid employers and employees to create individualized worksite accommodations solutions and develop strategies to fund the acquisition of any necessary AT.

State Telecommunications Equipment Distribution Programs

Many states have established programs to provide adaptive telecommunications equipment for deaf and hard of hearing individuals and others who need adaptive equipment for telecommunications. While the equipment offered varies by program, the products available generally include the following:
  • text telephones (TTs)
  • visual or tactile signalers
  • voice carry over (VCO) telephones
  • amplified telephones
  • in-line amplifiers
  • large visual display text telephones
  • voice activated telephones
  • braille telecommunication devices
  • ringers
  • speech aids.
A list of the state telecommunications equipment distribution programs is available in Appendix D. Contact the program for a specific state to determine the eligibility requirements and application procedures as well as the types of equipment available.

Other State or Local Agencies

Other state or local agencies that may provide funding for assistive technology include agencies for the aging, for persons who are blind or visually impaired, for persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, and for persons with developmental disabilities. Program details and organizational structure vary widely by state and locality. The State Assistive Technology Programs are reliable sources of information about the resources that are available through state and local government programs. To see a list of state agencies that offer disability-related information, funding or other resources, go to the ABLEDATA State Government Resource Center on the ABLEDATA Web site.

Motor Vehicle Adaptive Equipment Reimbursement Programs

Most major auto manufacturers offer partial reimbursement for adaptive equipment such as hand controls, ramps or lifts installed on new or late-model vehicles purchased from the company through an authorized dealer. Leased vehicles may also qualify, depending on the specific program. Usually, the reimbursement limit is $1,000. Many reimbursement programs are part of larger programs that help vehicle owners locate and select adaptive equipment that is best suited to their cars or trucks. A list of the mobility equipment/reimbursement programs offered by the major auto companies is available in Appendix E.

Veterans Benefits

Veterans may be entitled to assistive technology equipment or devices as part of their Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care benefits if the equipment or device is determined to be medically necessary. In addition, the VA’s Blind Rehabilitation Service may pay for devices for veterans who are blind or visually impaired, and the VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Service may provide employment-related AT as part of its Independent Living Program. Contact information for each of these VA programs is provided in the list of National Funding Sources in Appendix F.

The Application Process

As a general rule, it is rarely possible to simply walk into an organization that provides funding for assistive technology and walk out with the needed product(s), without going through some kind of application or eligibility process.

Laying the Groundwork

To lay the groundwork for an AT funding application, two basic steps are required—(1) determining what assistive technology is needed and (2) assembling and organizing all documentation needed to complete the application process.
Individuals with long-term disability may already be familiar with the types of devices they need, and may only wish to replace old or outdated technology with newer technology of the same general type. But if the user does not already know what sort of device is needed, there are several possible sources of information and advice:
  • Therapist, physician, or rehabilitation professional
    Many public and private funding sources require a prescription from a doctor, a therapist or another professional in the healthcare or rehabilitation field. Individuals who have not previously selected or purchased AT or whose disabilities have changed should have an appropriate, thorough evaluation to determine what specific products are best suited to their needs.
  • AT consulting service
    Assistive technology consulting services are offered by public, nonprofit, and private organizations and companies. Some State Assistive Technology Projects, Centers for Independent Living, and state and local government agencies offer consulting services staffed by professionals and/or consumers. If these organizations do not provide the service, their staff members may be able to provide referrals to local private consultants or occupational or other therapists who specialize in this area.
  • Consumer or caregiver support group
    Many support groups offer consultations and advice, either formally or informally. They also may maintain resource lists that include information on local private consultants or occupational or other therapists.
The second step in the process is to gather and organize the information and documentation necessary to support the application for funding. Whether assistance is sought from an insurance company, a community organization, a government agency, or another resource, having the supporting information organized and available is critical and will help alleviate frustration and unnecessary delays. The following information is commonly required for an application for AT funding:
  • Primary Disability
  • Time of Onset
  • Cause of Disability
  • Secondary Disability
  • Time of Onset of Secondary Disability
  • Cause of Secondary Disability
  • Employment History
  • Family Gross Income
  • Monthly Expenses (such as rent or mortgage payments, utilities, outstanding loans and bills, medical expenses)
  • Health Insurance Information
  • Names, Ages, and Relationship of Dependents.
An organization may require that an applicant have documentation (such as pay stubs, tax returns, identification cards or recent bills) to verify some or all of this information. Documentation requirements usually are included in an application’s instructions.

Preparing a Justification Statement

Whatever the funding source, it is likely that a statement of justification will be required. This is particularly true for government programs. The nature of the required justification varies, and individuals seeking assistance should inquire about the requirements of the organization from which they seek funding prior to making the application. The following are some basic guidelines to keep in mind when preparing a justification statement:
  • When the funding source is a public or private insurance policy, the statement is usually required to indicate the medical necessity of the purchase, and it should come from a physician or therapist.
  • State vocational rehabilitation agencies need a statement of justification focusing on how the technology will enhance the individual’s ability to prepare for, get, or keep a job, or how it will improve the individual’s ability to function independently.
  • Schools need a statement showing how the assistive technology will enhance the child’s ability to obtain an appropriate education in the least restrictive environment possible.
Other funding sources have their own specific requirements. Success in securing funding frequently depends on the applicant’s ability to address each agency’s unique requirements in a funding request.

What to Do if the Application is Rejected

When an application for funding is denied, two federally funded programs may be able to provide advice and assistance in case the applicant wants to appeal or otherwise seek to overturn the denial. Congressionally mandated Client Assistance Programs and Protection and Advocacy Programs are funded by the U.S. Department of Education in each U.S. state and territory.

Client Assistance Programs

Each state has a Client Assistance Program (CAP) that provides information and assistance to individuals with disabilities who are seeking or receiving services from certain government-funded programs, including vocational rehabilitation, CILs, agencies for the blind, and other programs funded under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Some of the programs covered by the CAP, notably vocational rehabilitation, often provide funding for AT, and the CAP may be able to help a client who is having trouble getting needed AT funding. A CAP also may provide valuable advice and assistance to a person who is unsure about the funding program(s) to which he or she should apply.

Protection and Advocacy Programs

In addition to a CAP, each state has a Protection and Advocacy (P&A) program whose job is to advocate for the legal rights of persons with disabilities, such as full access to inclusive educational programs, financial entitlements, health care, accessible housing, and employment. The scope of a P&A program is broader than the scope of a CAP, and P&A programs have the authority to provide legal representation as part of their advocacy services. However, P&A programs are entitled to set priorities and make judgments regarding which cases to pursue legally.
A complete list of state CAPs and P&A programs can be found in Appendix C.