1999 Conference Proceedings

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Funding Assistive Technology For Individuals With Disabilities

Kelly Fonner, MS, ATP, Education & Assistive Technology Consultant
Harrisburg, PA
Email: kfonner@juno.com 

Pat Ourand, MS, CCC-SLP
Rehab Networking
Baltimore, MD
Email: pat_ourand@umail.umd.edu

   

Overview of Funding Assistive Technology For Individuals With Disabilities

The process of funding assistive technology must be approached with organized, yet often simple, strategies. To accomplish such a task a collaborative team must be assembled to guarantee that an individual receives appropriate devices and service recommendations.

Additionally, before funding for AT devices and services can be identified, specific questions must be examined to provide answers to identify the most appropriate, versus most promising, funding source. These questions will enable consumers, professionals and other advocates to analyze all possible funding options. These considerations must question not only the availability of resources, but also the legal responsibility of one or more funding alternatives. Although it may seem as if funding for AT is limited and difficult to identify and subsequently attain, such may not be the phenomenon. If a recommendation for AT is provided with sufficient documentation and justification, funding is generally available. In some cases, precedents exist and funding is uncompounded. In other situations, background information and history must be provided so a to clarify the appropriateness of the funding request. In still other cases, appeals must be pursued to confirm funding through the most appropriate funding source.

This session will examine these issues and many more in the discussion of successful funding for assistive technology services and devices.

Overview of Funding Assistive Technology For Individuals With Disabilities

The process of funding Assistive Technology services and devices must be approached with organized, yet often simple, strategies. To accomplish such a task a collaborative team must be assembled to guarantee that an individual receives appropriate devices and service recommendations. This team may include the consumer, parents or other family members, educator, rehabilitation counselor and/or technologist, speech/language pathologist, occupational therapist, physician and many other service providers and professionals. This is a critical first step.

Once the team has been established, each member contributes knowledge of the individual and expertise in funding streams. Together, the combined skills of all team members will enable successful identification of, and access to the most appropriate funding source. The team must seek collaboration between funding sources, where appropriate. Many times, more than one funding source is available to share in the responsibility of providing the recommended device and services. Such a strategy allows the consumer access to the most appropriate AT device and/or service, while allowing the funder(s) to serve an increased number of consumers. Without collaboration, many funding alternatives will begin to deplete funds as a result of the enormity of fiscal responsibilities.

Additionally, before funding for AT devices and services can be identified, specific questions must be examined to provide answers to identify the most appropriate, versus most promising, funding source. These questions will enable consumers, professionals and other advocates to analyze all possible funding options. These considerations must question not only the availability of resources, but also the legal responsibility of one or more funding alternatives. Although it may seem as if funding for AT is limited and difficult to identify and subsequently attain, such may not be the phenomenon. If a recommendation for AT services and devices is provided with sufficient documentation and justification, funding is generally available. In some cases, precedents exist and funding is uncompounded. In other situations, background information and history must be provided so a to clarify the appropriateness of the funding request. In still other cases, appeals must be pursued to confirm funding through the most appropriate funding source.

When consideration for funding of an AT device is initiated, all pertinent services must also be identified to insure provision of the most appropriate equipment configuration. Additionally, this will help to limit underuse and abandonment. Finally, such an approach insures that the funder will not be asked to provide additional services and devices to prematurely replace those previously provided. This process can only be successful with the implementation of a team approach.

Numerous programs are currently available for funding of AT services and devices. Since many of these programs emanate from the federal level, all administering agencies at the state and local level must work from the same regulations. Therefore it is a good idea for consumers and professionals to be aware of, and to compare access in other communities and states to determine the current and possible scope of these program dollars. If federal funds are being used in one jurisdiction in a manner not available in another community, questions must be posed. Frequently, the response will be that the policy does not support such an expenditure. This rebuttal does not mean that the expenditure can not be made, only that is has not be made. The possibility of having such a policy rewritten does exist and should be pursued instantaneously.

The following is a brief description of numerous funding resources currently available for coverage of microcomputer services and devices. An investigation into any one or more of these programs may provide for an appropriate funding source.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Part B

This program mandates a free, appropriate public education (FAPE) for preschoolers, children and youth with disabilities. An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is required for all children with a disability. These children are entitled to special education, related services or supplementary aid. Related services are defined as "transportation, and such developmental, corrective and supportive services as may be required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education [20 USC Chapter 33, Section 1401(17)]. If the IEP team determines that assistive technology is required for a free, appropriate public education, then it must be provided at no cost to the child or their family. Once an IEP is deemed necessary and AT services and/or a device have been identified for the child, the IEP must be implemented immediately. This mechanism for the provision of assistive technology gives the child an equal opportunity to learn and progress through the educational system along with non disabled students.

As of July 1, 1998, the law requires the IEP team to specifically consider a student’s need for AT devices and services when developing the IEP (20 U.S.C. §1414(d)(3)(B)(v). In addition, for students who are blind or visually impaired, the IEP team must provide for instruction in Braille and the use of Braille unless the IEP team determines, after evaluating a student’s current and future needs, that instruction in Braille or the use of Braille is not appropriate for the individual (20 U.S.C. §1414(d)(3)(B)(iii).

The Rehabilitation Act Amendments Of 1992

Adults with a disability that precludes them from obtaining, maintaining or regaining employment are eligible for vocational rehabilitation (VR) services. As well, individuals with a disability who are preparing for employment (e.g., vocational training, high school and college education) are eligible. The general age of acceptance is an "employment" age which is roughly translated at 16 years.

These amendments include numerous statements related to rehabilitation technology, which encompasses AT. It is of critical importance to note that the specific equipment and services needs of the individual must be included in the Individualized Written Rehabilitation Program (IWRP) in order for the vocational rehabilitation counselor to provide such service and devices. Additionally, it should be noted that rehabilitation technology is exempt from the comparable services and benefits requirement. This means that the VR program must readily provide the necessary services and devices to individuals who require such to attain vocational goals and objectives.

As an indication that the 1998 Senate Rehabilitation Act Amendments provides for even further improvements regarding use of Assistive Technology, the proposed bill makes several new references to assistive technology including:

Recognizing that many students with disabilities will require assistance from the rehabilitation system upon leaving public education programs, the 1992 Amendments include numerous amendments related to transition. A definition of transition services, duplicating that in the IDEA has been added to the Act. Transition services ‘that promote or facilitate the accomplishment of long-term rehabilitation goals and intermediate rehabilitation objectives also has been added to the scope of rehabilitation services’ [29 USC Section 723(a)(14)]. Programs funded under this mandate may begin providing services to children ages 14 and older. These provisions do not in any way shift the burden of responsibility for transition planning from the education system to the rehabilitation system. Rather, they will force coordination and collaboration between the systems.

Action steps that can be taken to foster collaboration and facilitate the transfer of assistive technology into the adult service system, the workplace and post-secondary education include:

In fact, many of these initiatives have been legislated since 1990. This fact points to the thinking that appears to be developing at the federal level. Many of the incentives can increase net income to help cover special expenses necessary to work, such as AT services and devices. Other offers a mechanism to maintain health benefits over extended periods of time.

Internal Revenue Code

Any taxpayer with a disability, or taxpayer with a dependent with a disability is eligible to consider use of one or more credits or deductions through the Internal Revenue Code. The Internal Revenue Service supports numerous and varied tax credits and deductions which are available to individuals purchasing AT devices and services. He notes "the deductibility of goods and services interact in several ways. Sometimes goods will only be deductible if recommended by a physician...other times, the health professional’s diagnosis and recommendations, while not a legal prerequisite to deductibility, constitute powerful evidence of the nature and purpose of the expense. With goods and services alike, their source, nature and purposes form the continuum along which deductibility is determined.

Advocacy

Far too often, people give up before exhausting all the possibilities for funding. The key to obtaining funding for assistive technology is a client advocate who refuses to take a "no" for an answer. Perseverance is the operational word. It is important to understand the following:

The role of the advocate is critical to the success of the funding process. The user may be his/her own advocate or may enlist the aid of a volunteer family member or friend. It is very helpful if someone from a professional community will agree to work in tandem with the volunteer. The advocate should be prepared to:


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