The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law 30 years ago, providing the first comprehensive set of civil rights and protections for individuals with disabilities. The ADA mandates accessibility and accommodations for those with disabilities in public facilities, employment, state and local government services, transportation and communication.
The ADA raised the bar for home and community based services (HCBS) to include provisions, when possible, to cover the purchase of assistive technology (AT) and/or home and vehicle modifications that make it possible for an individual to live more independently within their home community.
In the years following the ADA, the Assistive Technology Act was signed into law to help states sustain and strengthen their ability to provide individuals with access to assistive technology.
The Assistive Technology Act defines assistive technology as “any item, piece of equipment, or product system…that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.”
Today, many people use smart phones, computers, assistive vehicle features and smart home technology to make their lives easier. Assistive technology also includes vision and hearing aids; accessible kitchens or bathrooms; and stair climbers. Modified vehicles and adaptive recreational equipment are also considered assistive technology. Communication technology may allow for text to speech or provide vision tracking too, helping people communicate and live more independently within their communities.
What is an Assistive Technology Assessment?
Often, a physician will provide a referral for a functional assessment that may determine if the use of assistive technology may help a person. A person who is experiencing hearing loss is often referred to an audiologist, while a person who has vision loss may be referred to an eye doctor or a local vision loss center. Many times, a person simply knows the time has come that they need a modified vehicle or a scooter. Sometimes, private insurance or Medicare will cover assistive technology. Other times, there are grants that may provide partial or full funding assistance towards the purchase of assistive technology.
Many states have assistive technology assessment services and lending libraries that allow people to try out assistive technology prior to making a purchase. Many communities also have re-use centers that provide gently used equipment. Equipment can often be borrowed from these centers, indefinitely. If the center is a retail center, purchase prices are often greatly reduced.
What if a grant or funding is not available?
Assistive Technology can be very costly, not only because of the purchase price, but as a result of financing terms. Medical insurance, grant programs, schools, colleges or employers may sometimes pay for the purchase of AT. But, in many cases, the responsibility of purchasing AT remains with the family or the person who needs the item. Many states have Alternative Financing Programs that offer affordable loans, with flexible lending terms, to help people to purchase assistive technology and develop good credit. Some programs also offer re-financing options to reduce interest on AT purchased through the financing programs.
Why are they called Alternative Financing Programs?
Most assistive technology vendors provide financing options for the purchase of AT. This is often quick and easy, but in many cases, interest rates can be very high, with extended terms of repayment. These financing options may significantly increase the overall cost of assistive technology.
Alternative Finance Programs (AFP) are an alternative to high interest loans or lines of credit, specifically designated for the purchase of assistive technology. AFP interest rates are usually between 3% to 6% interest. In addition, the terms of lending are favorable, meaning it may be easier to qualify for a loan through an AFP program than through traditional financing options. In many cases, a person may not have a credit history or their credit score may be low. The AFP programs, in many cases, can provide a loan for the purchase or refinance of assistive technology as long as the applicant can demonstrate the means (sufficient disposable income) and intent to repay a loan.
People who contact the Alternative Finance Programs are provided guidance on finding AT services within their communities, including AT assessment, re-use and grant programs. Any person who needs assistive technology may reach out to these programs; there is no income limit or age restriction. Find a local program near you.
National Disability Institute can help you find and afford assistive technology. Our Assistive Technology (AT) Loan Program provides affordable loans of $500 to $30,000 to residents of New Jersey and New York.