In today’s society everyone uses technology in their daily lives and most if not all take technology for granted. We have become accustomed to the high tech computers, medical technology that provides life saving diagnostic tests, automatic teller machines, global positioning systems, bar scanners and much more. We view these technological advancements as making life easier.
In Maine, however, it is estimated that one in five of our citizens, 20% of the population, has some form of disability. For many of these people, accessing a range of technology and information, functioning independently, participating in day to day activities is not possible without Assistive Technology (AT). AT improves the quality of life, improves self-esteem by making communication or employment possible, and enables individuals with disabilities to become more active participants in their communities. Assistive Technology gives people with disabilities improved functional capabilities.
AT is not just gadgets that make life easier; AT makes it possible for people with disabilities to participate more fully and more meaningfully in day to day life and achieve the same outcomes as non-disabled peers – education, work, housing, recreation, friends, driver’s licenses and much more. With appropriate technology, individuals with disabilities are able to reach their full potential. For example, when a child learns to activate a switch that turns on his or her favorite toy, their functional ability to play and to develop in a more typical manner has improved. When the adolescent with learning disabilities is able to organize thoughts and produce written work comparable to his peers, the likelihood of graduation and post secondary pursuit and eventual employment is increased.
Being aware that devices and services are available to meet the functional needs of people with disabilities, is not enough. Funding to assess abilities and needs, to acquire the devices and to reimburse for training on using the devices is necessary. The following information is offered to assist you in outlining some of the issues and questions that need to be addressed in order to determine the best approach to securing funding for necessary AT devices and services. Finding the money is seldom easy but with patience, persistence and paying attention to details, the likelihood of securing the necessary funding increases dramatically.
The single most important aspect of accessing necessary funding is to develop a funding strategy. In order to do this; one must first understand the funding system. There is no one funding system that will meet all the needs of an individual who requires AT. Paperwork requirements and rationale for one system will not usually work for another. One must always be mindful of the fact that anyone pursuing funding needs to consider him/herself an advocate. The better informed and knowledgeable the advocate is, the greater the likelihood that funding for necessary services and/or devices will be obtained. It is the goal of this overview to demonstrate how to enhance the likelihood that the funding systems necessary for a particular individual will work together effectively to procure the necessary devices and services.
In preparing the funding strategy for a particular device and/or service, some framing questions must be answered. The key questions include but are not limited to:
- Is the person eligible for any public sources of funding?
- What benefits does the public or private funding source offer that would be considered AT (i.e., Durable Medical Equipment, Prosthetics, Orthotics, speech/language therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy)?
- Will any of the public programs share the costs of providing technology?
- What are the personal resources of the individual or family?
- Can the individual and/or family pay for any part of the equipment or service?
- If the family or individual pays for all or part of the technology, will the expense be eligible as a tax deduction?
- Are there civic or charitable organizations, foundations, churches, or professional associations that could raise the necessary funds?
Identifying a Primary Funder
Once these questions have been answered, the primary funder must then be identified. In order to do this; key questions regarding the primary purpose of the device must be answered.
Is the device medically necessary, educationally necessary or vocationally necessary? If the device is necessary for medical reasons, then private insurance, Medicare or Maine Care (formerly known as Medicaid and Cub Care) would be appropriate sources of funding.
If the device is necessary for the individual to access educational materials, meaningfully participate in the curriculum and assessments or access extracurricular activities then the local school district would be a logical starting point. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), general purpose aid, Title I and technology grants may all provide sources of funding.
If the primary reason for the device or service is employment, homemaking, or to increase independence and self-efficiency, then the Bureau of Rehabilitation should be approached. Vocational Rehabilitation or Independent Living may be viable sources of funding.
When the primary funder and the person’s eligibility for a specific program have been determined, the process of securing funding should begin. The single most important factor in procuring funds is documentation. Documentation refers not only to the demonstration of the need for a particular device or service but also to the process that was followed during the assessment process and procurement of funds.
Once you have collected the required paperwork of the funding source you are ready to submit your request. It is important to know exactly what is needed by the funding source prior to submitting the request. Be familiar with the policies and procedures of the funding agency. Working with a professional, advocate or vendor can be helpful in gathering all of the required paperwork. Communicate in writing whenever possible and remember to keep copies in your own personal file of everything you send to a funder. If it is necessary to communicate over the phone, record the date, the name of the person with whom you spoke, the topic and outcome of the conversation. Thorough documentation often is the key difference in a successful funding request.
When dealing with the funding source, get the name and contact information of the person who is responsible for making the reimbursement/funding decision. It is advisable to send letters to and to speak with this person each time you contact the funding source, if possible. This improves continuity and reduces the opportunities for misunderstandings, miscommunications or lost items. While you are waiting for a determination regarding your funding request, keep the communication lines open and never allow gaps in time or more than two weeks between contacts. It is important to be polite and businesslike in these communications while at the same time being persistent.
More Than One Funding Source
It is feasible and often recommended that individuals and/or families approach more than one funding source to secure funding. These funding sources may be approached at the same or at different times. Many times the primary funding source will not pay for the entire request. Partial funding is not uncommon. For example, a health insurer might purchase a mobility device, but would not pay for a ramp to allow the person to enter and exit the home. If the purpose of the wheelchair is to allow the individual to gain employment, vocational rehabilitation services would be a logical stop to secure funding for the construction of the ramp.
Denials and Appeals
If your funding request is denied, don’t be dismayed. Stay determined. Initial denials often happen. The most critical thing to do in the event of a denial is to appeal. Get the reason for the denial in writing. The written explanation will tell you if the request was denied due to lack of required information or lack of understanding by the funding source. Rarely is a request for funding denied due to lack of need or perceived importance in the individual’s life. If required information was missing from the request, obtain the information and resubmit it. Remember to use the information given above that tells what to do when communicating with the funding source. If there is more information needed, find out exactly what is needed and to whom this information should be sent. Make sure the information gets to the right person. Don’t leave this to chance. Follow up with a phone call to make sure that the requested information has been received. It is critically important to follow any timelines and procedures when filing your appeal.
Never Give Up
In closing, remember the 4P’s to funding (patience, politeness, paying attention to details and persistence) and never give up when it comes to funding. Knowledge is power.
RESOURCES AND INFORMATION
Financial literacy and budgeting
- Financial Independence for People with Disabilities. –
- Social Security Administration – Plan To Achieve Self-Support (PASS) Plan To Achieve Self-Support (PASS).
- Financial Freedom: Borrowing for Assistive Technology – from AlphaOne.
- Better Money Habits – from Bank of America and Kahn Academy.
- 2014 Top 12 Financial Capability Links for Persons with Disabilities, Family Members and Service Providers.
ABOUT REHABILITATION SERVICES
The Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA) operates the Catalyst Project under a grant from the Rehabilitation Services Administration, U.S. Department of Education. RESNA has offered a series of webinars that cover a number of topics including those related to the acquisition of AT. The following webinars and related resources, in particular, may be of value to those seeking to fund AT devices and services.
AT & Employment Webinar Series:
- State Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies: Using the VR Agency to Fund Assistive Technology.
- Funding Work-Related Assistive Technology for the Transition-Aged Special Education Student.
- Obtaining or Retaining Medicaid While Working: The Section 1619(b) and Medicaid Buy-In for Working People Programs.
OTHER ORGANIZATIONS/AGENCIES THAT MAY BE ABLE TO PROVIDE FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE:
- ALS Association.
- DREAMMS for Kids.
- Disability Resources.
- Easter Seals.
- National Spinal Cord Injury Association.
- United Cerbral Palsy.
- PCs for Maine – inexpensive PCs for purchase by Maine citizens.
- HHS.gov website on Medicaid.
- HHS.gov website on Medicare.
Original Publishing date: May 2003; revised 2/5/2019