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Funding Tips in General
The number-one tip is to know your rights under the law. Research, read, attend workshops, talk to knowledgeable people. Laws passed by the national and state legislatures, court decisions and agency regulations all have an impact on assistive tech funding.
Learn about the best strategies for approaching funding sources. Recognize that you must become your own best advocate or the best advocate for your child, patient, employee, friend, etc., and that knowledge is power. The deeper your personal involvement, the better chance you have of finding funding.
Know your technology needs. Specifically. Exactly. You will need the help of a professional or cross-disciplinary team of professionals who can assess need, suggest an appropriate device, and clearly describe in writing how that device meets a specific need. You are looking for an occupational therapist, physical therapist, speech pathologist or rehabilitation engineer (or all of the above) who is qualified by his or her training in and experience with assistive technology. You can find these experts by asking other people in situations similar to yours, asking at school, asking your doctor or hospital, contacting a professional society, asking at parent support groups. Local, state and national non-profit disability organizations also may provide referrals.
During the process of assessing and prescribing, ask all the questions you can think of and offer plenty of input. A trial of a recommended device is essential. If you can, borrow the device for a "real-life" trial at home, school or work. (There are technology resource centers which loan equipment and some equipment suppliers or manufacturers also make "try-before-you-buy" equipment loans.) You must become an expert on what a device does and what difference it can make in your life, or in the life of the person with a disability with whom you are involved.
If it seems one piece of equipment works better for you than another, document the superiority of the device you prefer. Take notes, take photos, make a video. You also should document functioning with and without the recommended device, to show how it makes a difference. You may need this "evidence" when seeking funding.
Sources of funding for assistive technology may be public or private. Public sources include all agencies which are funded and operated by national, state or local governments. Private sources include private insurance companies and special no- or low-interest loan programs from private lenders arranged for you by a government agency or by a technology manufacturer.
In addition to the most common sources of funding for assistive technology, other options might include the U.S. Veterans Administration which serves armed forces veterans; the Social Security Administration's PASS (Plan To Achieve Self-Support) program for people receiving SSI or SSDI; your state's Workers Compensation program, if the disability was caused by a work-related injury; non-profit disability organizations; and civic or service organizations serving your community (Lions Club, VFW, Rotary Club, etc.). Some families have had success in working with local service groups, churches, labor unions, or school organizations to stage fund-raisers in their communities.
It's possible to fund the purchase of an assistive device by relying on more than one source. In fact, sometimes this is the best or only way.
The way in which you plan to use a device will dictate your funding options. If a device is necessary to a student's highest functioning in the least-restrictive school setting, then the school should write the need for the device into the student's IEP (individualized education plan) or IFSP (individualized family service plan for families with children in an early intervention program) and fund the device. If the device is necessary for work, your state's department, office or division of vocational rehabilitation should help. If the device is medically necessary (essential to attaining or maintaining health or to replace lost or non-functioning body parts), private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid comes into play. If a device is necessary to enable a person to live outside an institution, a different government program may be the source of funding. There are many areas of overlap between these funding sources, and arguments can be made (and often should be made) in any direction. But you'll have better luck if, for example, you ask a school, rather than your insurer, to fund an education-related device.
Each source of funding has its own definitions, requirements, and eligibility rules. Learn the rules and follow them. Funding can be denied simply because an applicant forgot to sign a form. If you find a funding source's rules confusing, seek help from an experienced advocate or insist on a fuller explanation from the source.
Supplement funding application forms with additional information, such as a brochure about the requested device, a video you've made, photos, etc. Turn in everything at the same time. It may be a good idea to turn in your application package in person, and have an agency or insurance company employee (get the person's name) check your submission to make sure you've covered everything.
Call regularly to check on the process of your application for funding. Keep a journal of all contacts with the funding agency. Write down the date, the name of the person with whom you spoke, and what was discussed. Keep copies of all correspondence. If an appeal process becomes necessary, your records will be important. Be patient, but make it clear you are very involved and serious about your application.
Be persistent. If a funding request is denied, ask the agency or insurance company for the reason for denial in writing. If the denial was based on a mistake, misunderstanding, or lack of information, clear that up and resubmit your application. If you still are denied, determine what you must do to appeal the denial, and stick with the process. If needed, work with an advocate. If you are dealing with a government agency, you may contact your legislators (state or federal) and ask them to contact the funding agency on your behalf.
Find an outside advocate, especially if you are new to the funding game. Many assistive technology manufacturers employ funding coordinators who can be quite helpful. Disability groups, advocacy groups, parent support groups, other people with disabilities or their family members, teachers, and therapists can help you determine your best course of action and, if necessary, help you find someone to speak on your behalf to funding sources.
If you feel a funding source is not giving you a fair hearing and that your rights are being violated, obtain legal counsel. If you can not afford an attorney, contact your local Legal Aid Society. In the best of all possible worlds, the process of finding funding for assistive technology would not become adversarial, but, in reality, sometimes it does. Do not be intimidated. Get someone on your side who knows the law relating to assistive technology funding.
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