2000 Conference Proceedings

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An Overview of Telecommunications Equipment Distribution Programs

Background

Equipment distribution programs (EDPs) assist consumers with disabilities with obtaining telecommunications equipment. There is a two-part rationale behind the existence of EDPs: One is a national effort toward achieving universal service. That is, phone companies have "penetrated" most areas of the country and help most people get phone service if they want it. The other, is the issue of fairness. People with disabilities often have to pay extra for assistive technology to help them achieve access. Many individuals feel that it is appropriate to offset these front-end special equipment costs so that people with communication disabilities don’t have to pay more to use a phone.

EDP Differences

EDPs are not mandated by federal law, and there is a great deal of variation among them. This Guide explores several issues:

Types of equipment distributed

Most programs focus on helping people with hearing disabilities. This is not surprising since the impetus behind EDPs has traditionally come from advocacy by organizations that serve people with hearing loss. Some EDPs help people with speech, vision, motion, or cognitive disabilities as well. Some even allow consumers to obtain equipment that is not telephone related. Examples of equipment or services by disability are listed below. Some programs include miscellaneous equipment, such as surge protectors.

Hearing:

Speech:

Vision:

Motion:

Cognition:

Directory assistance exemption Operator assistance exemption Speed dial service exemption Memory dialers SHHH publishes information on hearing assistance technologies for those seeking more detailed information on some devices. EDPs, of course, will provide information on all the devices that they distribute.

Eligibility Guidelines

Some EDPs have limited funds and only assist those with low incomes. Some EDPs are provided through phone companies and only serve their own customers. Some states have several local phone companies, so consumers outside of that particular company’s EDP service area miss out. EDPs may require that consumers be legal residents of the state. EDPs may not distribute equipment to someone very young out of concern for their ability to use the equipment. EDPs may inquire about existing similar devices in the household. They may only offer assistance to people who do not currently have the necessary devices.

Needs Assessment

EDPs often have demonstration centers for consumers to "test drive" various types of equipment. These centers are helpful because they allow consumers to evaluate how well the equipment meets their particular need before making a commitment. They also allow consumers to view equipment selections and consider alternative solutions. Before equipment is provided, some EDPs require that consumers demonstrate their knowledge of and ability to use that piece of equipment. These EDPs usually provide training and other consumer education as needed.

SHHH publishes a national directory of over 250 assistive device demonstration centers. However, most centers are not affiliated with EDPs.

Acquisition procedures

Some programs dispense equipment. A device may be shipped direct or the consumer may need to pick it up at a specified regional office.

Other programs offer a voucher that consumers use to select and purchase equipment on their own. The consumer may be handed a list of participating companies that accept the voucher.

Sometimes a trainer may deliver and install equipment, upon request.

Cost

Ownership

Some programs loan equipment for life as long as the consumer remains in the area. The consumer may be able to exchange the device for a newer model on occasion.

Other programs distribute equipment for keeps. The consumer is expected to handle any repair or maintenance costs that may arise.

In the event that a consumer’s impairment changes, e.g. hearing gets worse, a consumer can apply to obtain a different device that is effective in meeting the new challenge.

Application procedures

EDPs vary in their application requirements. These may include:

Other Types of EDPs

Some EDPs are low interest loan programs that provide consumers with money to purchase assistive technology, such as hearing aids or phone equipment. Some loan programs are interested in assisting even those consumers with blemishes in their credit record. Loan financing programs should not be confused with loan closets, which allow you to borrow equipment for a limited period of time, e.g. two weeks.

A similar type of EDP is a recycling program. It will receive, inventory and dispense used equipment. Others operate used equipment referral services to match buyers and sellers of assistive technology.

Consumer responsiveness

Some of the more exemplary EDPs form advisory councils that help them remain aware of user needs. Some have an ombudsman available to facilitate resolution of outstanding complaints.

Disclaimer

Inclusion or exclusion of EDP information in this Guide does not imply endorsement or rejection. SHHH is developing a comparison chart of EDPs (due in Spring 2000). A broad view of EDPs is used, allowing inclusion of information on a wide range of programs. Most EDP reports in the past have been written from an advocate’s perspective. However, consumers primarily wish to know "What’s available?" and "Where do I get it?" Therefore, the information in this Guide does not address issues related to program funding or legislation.

Individuals seeking information from an administrator’s perspective would be advised to contact the Telecommunications Equipment Distribution Program Association (TEDPA) at www.tedpa.org. SHHH is grateful to TEDPA as well as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for their assistance in gathering EDP information. This Guide is based on a similar 1996 publication produced by the Tele-Consumer Hotline, now outdated and out of print


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