Assistive technology (AT) opens up a world of freedom and independence to people with physical disabilities. But lack of money often is a barrier between people and the AT devices and equipment they need.
One option is to get used and recycled AT at a lower cost.
“Reuse offers people an option when there’s no other option,” says Jeremy Buzzell, program specialist for the U.S. Department of Education’s Rehabilitation Services Administration.
MDA offers reused/recycled AT through its loan closets. Depending on local availability, people registered with the Association can borrow — for free and for as long as they need them — used power wheelchairs, scooters, communication devices, computers, lifts and other technology. MDA ensures the devices are clean and in good working order before loaning them out.
But if your local MDA loan closet doesn’t have what you need, there are other options. In addition to reuse programs that fix up and distribute used AT, there are online marketplaces, similar to classified ads or eBay, that help match people who need equipment with people who have equipment to donate or sell.
How reuse programs work
Assistive Technology Act programs, available in each state (although services vary), often offer recycling and reutilization programs providing affordable AT.
In addition to recycling donated equipment, many programs sanitize, refurbish and repair equipment — ranging from durable medical equipment (DME) and mobility devices to alternative augmentative communication (AAC) devices and computer equipment. You also can find programs that rebuild equipment to meet the new user’s specifications.
|Liz Persaud, who’s benefited from reused equipment, encourages people with neuromuscular diseases to consider reused assistive technology to help relieve financial strain and gain independence.|
For example, the Assistive Technology for Kansans (state AT) program offers an equipment reutilization program that distributes a wide range of DME, including wheelchairs, scooters, hospital beds, shower chairs and communication devices, to people in Kansas at no cost. And, if you no longer need a certain piece of equipment, the program will issue tax deduction letters for donated equipment.
Before distribution, the equipment is refurbished and repaired by qualified vendors to make sure it’s safe and operating at its highest capacity, says Sheila Simmons, project coordinator for the AT for Kansans Project. Project staff work closely with people to ensure the equipment is a good match for each user.
“DME vendors in the state really like the program because they understand that equipment is going to people who maybe don’t have private health insurance [and can’t pay out of pocket],” Simmons adds. “They realize that we’re helping people who fall into the gaps.”
Liz Persaud of Alpharetta, Ga., who has type 2 spinal muscular atrophy, is trying to spread the word to others with neuromuscular diseases about the wealth of equipment that’s available through reuse programs.
“It [reused equipment] can help people become more independent, and it plays a huge role in helping to relieve the financial strain of purchasing new, expensive AT,” says Persaud, 28, an assistive technology information and assistance specialist for Tools for Life, Georgia’s state AT program.
For example, when Persaud was 10, her family needed a lift for their van. Persaud’s dad had a wooden ramp, and he’d roll her up the ramp, stopping before she entered to bend her head over so she could get through the door.
Her parents were put in contact with FODAC (Friends of Disabled Adults and Children), which has a program called ReMount offering refurbished lifts for adapted vehicles. (Tools for Life now works with FODAC to provide reused equipment in Georgia.)
“The lift belonged to someone else, and I was able to use it, making it safer for me to get into the van,” Persaud says. “And, the people helping me get into the van didn’t have to break their backs trying to push me up some old wooden board.”
Since she started working with Tools for Life, she’s received a recycled computer and pool lift.
“Sometimes people think, ‘reused equipment, recycled equipment — well how great can that be?’” notes Persaud. “Some people may think the devices are dirty, missing parts or not working 100 percent, but it’s really not that way.”
Persaud obtained her first laptop through ReBoot, Georgia’s Computer Recycling Program, and became more independent, both personally and professionally. She has a difficult time using a regular desktop computer, so the laptop allowed her to get her work done and not fatigue as quickly. And, it was a big help financially for a college student with no money.
“When I mention ReBoot, I hear moans and groans,” she says. “They’re thinking that this thing is probably run by a hamster and a wheel. But reused AT and computers really can change people’s lives.”
Persaud sometimes fields calls from parents whose children are using a computer in school, and who want them to have one to use at home for homework. She refers them to ReBoot, which accepts donated computers, wipes the hard drives and installs new software via an agreement with Microsoft. The program, which offers training to people who receive recycled computers, will build a computer with new parts based upon your specifications.
Equipment available through Georgia’s Tools for Life and ReBoot programs goes through a very rigorous refurbishment and sanitization process that’s FDA-approved.
Reuse programs can be especially helpful to people who need backup equipment, Persaud says, especially since insurance usually will cover only one device.
“There’s a huge cost factor involved. If you go out and buy a new wheelchair, it can cost just as much as a car,” Persaud says. “If they don’t have insurance, many people won’t be able to afford something like that out of pocket.”
Finding AT reuse programs
|Persaud recommends reuse programs to people who need backup equipment for home, work and school, especially when insurance won’t cover additional devices.|
Your first contact should be your state’s AT Act program. Through RESNA’s National Assistive Technology Technical Assistance Partnership (NATTAP), you can locate programs by state, with complete contact information. Visit www.resnaprojects.org/nattap/at/statecontacts.html, or call (703) 524-6686.
If your state program doesn’t have a reuse program, they may be able to refer you to another program.
The National Pass It On Center, created in 2006, is working to “ensure that reuse is being done safely and appropriately, and that the equipment is matched with the right person,” says Buzzell, the RSA program officer who works with the center.
The center is developing a comprehensive online national network of reuse and exchange programs. Recently, the center partnered with RESNA to produce a listing of reuse programs throughout the country.
In addition to state AT Act reuse programs, the directory includes programs offered by local nonprofit organizations, centers for independent living and more. While it’s still a work in progress, you can search the state directory at www.resnaprojects.org/nattap/activities/reuse/search.html or call (703) 524-6686.
Exchange programs provide additional options
Online AT exchange programs, where pre-owned items are listed in a classified ad format, often are operated through state AT Act programs. Some states also partner with other states to participate in online marketplaces.
The exchange programs are different from the reuse or reutilization programs in that they merely serve as a connection between individuals who need a device and people who want to donate or sell equipment.
“If you’re able to give something away, that’s great, but if you need to pay for medical bills and other costs, this is a good way to sell equipment to someone who really needs it,” says Sheila Simmons, project coordinator for the AT for Kansans Project.
To use the online exchange programs, you generally must fill out a brief online application or register. Then, you can place an equipment ad or view the available equipment.
Some programs, like Georgia’s Tools for Life gTrade equipment exchange, are limited to use by Georgia residents with disabilities and their families.
But the state AT Act programs in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont participate in the Assistive Technology Exchange in New England (www.getatstuff.org). It’s primarily for residents in those states, but the program accepts entries from nearby states.
After contacting your state AT Act program, visit the Pass It On Center, which provides a separate listing of AT exchange networks nationwide. To date, it has 33 resources, covering some 40 states. For information on the center’s listing of AT exchange networks, visit http://passitoncenter.org/FindAT/tabid/622/Default.aspx or call (800) 497-8665.
AT Match is an online marketplace where people can list a product, auction it or sell it outright. Shipping charges generally are negotiated between the buyer and seller.
Currently, 11 state AT Act programs are affiliated with AT Match, says Simmons. When you register, you’re automatically provided with a list of AT and DME resources in your state. Registration is free, and you can locate items in 16 categories, including mobility, aids for daily living, communication, computers and environmental controls (although the number of available items fluctuates).
As with any online purchases, take note of the golden rule — buyer be aware.
“Exchange programs have their place, but sometimes the equipment really needs to be worked on,” says Simmons. “There are safety, health and usability issues involved.”
Check it out
Here are some tips and questions to help you get what you need:
Says Persaud, “Some consumers fall into a black hole when it comes to finding funding for AT. Reutilization programs can get people the equipment they need, usually at no cost.”