by Tom Morales, Projects Manager
Alliance for Technology Access (ATA)
The amazing advancements in technology have opened many doors of possibility in all of our lives. This is particularly true for people with disabilities. However, these are the same people that have the most to lose by not having access to technology. One of the many aspects of the Digital Divide is that technology, and particularly computer technology can be unaffordable for people who live on a limited or fixed income and the community based organizations that endeavor to help them.
It is important to note that there are several resources across the country that offer low cost or no cost options for someone who cannot walk into their local computer superstore and purchase a system that will meet their needs. The following resources will provide some of the available alternatives for individuals or organizations that are seeking to obtain critical technologies from computers to hearing aids to walkers.
Nearly every community has resources in it for obtaining technology. It may take some creativity and patience, but with some persistence, these "hidden treasures" can be found. Organizations such as the Elks, Lions, Civitan and religious groups are good folks to contact. They are usually eager to help those right in their own backyard.
The best way to tap into these resources is to make personal contact if you happen to know anyone in one of these organizations. If not, a well-constructed letter, describing what you need, why
you need it and how it will benefit you is the next best way to get your foot in the door. Including photos with the letter would be a plus.
The local business community can also be another excellent source of reliable, highly usable technology. Local accountants, real estate agents, banks, and manufacturing enterprises all use
computers. The increasingly sophisticated software programs being used in these fields require them to upgrade their systems fairly frequently. They would rather see their still useful equipment go to a good "home" rather than end up in a dumpster.
Many Alliance for Technology Access (ATA)
Resource Centers take donations of used computers, refurbish them and distribute them to adults with disabilities and families of children with disabilities. You can find a complete list of ATA Centers across the country at: www.ataccess.org/community/centers.html.
Local Elks Club Lodges provide financial assistance to young people with disabilities, including college scholarships. Find your local Elks Lodge by going to: www.elks.org/lodges/default.cfm.
Some Easter Seals centers also provide technology services and equipment. To find Easter Seals services near you, visit their Web site at: www.easter-seals.org.
Lions Clubs International serves people throughout the world. Globally, Lions Clubs are known for their commitment to blindness prevention and to serving young people. Contact your local Lions Club for information about their programs.
There are many "mainstream" routes to funding assistive technology. For school age children, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and its Individualized Education Program (IEP) process provide for the acquisition of assistive technology. For more information on IDEA, visit the FAPE Web site: www.fape.org.
Each state also has its own Tech Act program. These programs were set up to provide information about assistive technology to its residents. They will have information about low cost computers, loan programs and more. You can find your state's Tech Act program at: www.ataccess.org/resources/atabook/s03/s03-02.html.
The above entitlements should be pursued to their fullest before seeking out other sources of funding for assistive technology. An excellent online handbook that contains information on assistive technology funding sources such as Medicaid, private health insurance, Social Security etc., can be found at: trace.wisc.edu/archive/fintech/fintech.html.
For those who "fall between the cracks", there are national organizations that provide assistance anywhere in the country.
Med-Sell helps people buy and sell their USED medical equipment. This includes: wheelchair equipped vans, scooters, hospital beds, canes, walkers, lifts, wheelchairs, electric wheelchairs, transfer benches, standing frames and hospital medical equipment. There are some computer and assistive technology products, but it is not the emphasis of this web site. You can search for the products you need by geographical region - Southern California, Northern California, Northeast USA, North Central USA, Southeast USA, South Central, Hawaii, Midwest USA, Southwest USA, and Alaska. There are also international listings. You can find these listings at: www.nccn.net/~medsell/.
The Iowa Program for Assistive Technology maintains a database called Assistive Technology Used Equipment Services, Loan Closets, and Rental Agencies. It contains a state-by-state listing of organizations at: www.uiowa.edu/infotech/otheruse.htm.
The Starlight Children's Foundation has enhanced the lives of countless children and their families by granting wishes and providing state-of-the-art audiovisual entertainment. They provide services to seriously, chronically and terminally ill children, aged 4 through 18 years. You can find out more about their services and to find a local Starlight chapter at: www.starlight.org/.
Many ATA Resource Centers maintain assistive technology lending libraries. Items they lend include adapted toys; augmentative and alternative communication devices; software and assistive technology devices. You can find a complete list of ATA Centers across the country at: www.ataccess.org/community/centers.html.
The Make-a-Wish Foundation grants the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy. Find out more about their wish granting and your local chapter at: www.wish.org.
There are many grants available throughout the country that will help organizations obtain computers and other technologies. However, these grant opportunities can be very competitive and usually involve complex application processes. There is at least one national organization that is trying to make the acquisition of technology simple and affordable.
The National Cristina Foundation (NCF) provides computer technology and solutions to give people with disabilities, students at risk and economically disadvantaged persons the opportunity to lead more independent and productive lives. Equipment donations can be directed only to qualified organizations that have been declared exempt under Internal Revenue Code 501 (c)(3) or are a public agency. Priority is given to organizations responsible for fostering the training of people with special needs in educational or training environments. Grants of equipment to their NCF Network partner organizations are based on availability. They do not contribute directly to individuals. We can respond to your request to receive equipment from NCF only if your application is accepted. You can find out more about their programs at: www.cristina.org/.
NCF only provides support and equipment to their network of grassroots partners. Anyone interested in becoming a partner must complete a grant application. You can find an application at: www.cristina.org/learning_partner.html?live=partner.
Individuals and Organizations
There are some national agencies that as a part of their mission provide affordable technology to both individuals and organizations.
The PEP: Resources for Parents, Educators & Publishers Computer Recycling Web site is a place you can go to find a state, national and international directory of agencies that facilitate donations of used computer hardware for individuals, schools and community groups. Go to:
MacsforKids is another program that provides computers designed just for child learning (only $99.00, and in some cases even free) for childcare centers, after school programs, parents, etc. If you would like more information on this program, you can visit their web site at: www.macsforkids.com or call 800-846-3225. Don't be misled by their name, however, they have PCs as well as Macs.
Providing grants for assistive technology on a national scale is a unique model.
Disabled Children's Relief Fund (DCRF) is a non-profit organization that provides disabled children with assistance in obtaining everything from wheelchairs, orthopedic braces, walkers, hearing aids and eyeglasses, to physical therapy, and surgery. You can find out more about their program at: www.dcrf.com.
The DCRF grants modest awards for assistive devices, rehabilitative services, arts and humanities projects, or for efforts to bolster compliance with existing laws for the benefit of children with disabilities. Families (parent or guardian) may submit applications for an individual child and non-profit organizations may apply on behalf of a small group of children. They focus special attention on helping children throughout the U.S. that do not have adequate health insurance, especially the physically challenged.
Grant applications are available by writing:
Disabled Children's Relief Fund
P.O. Box 7420
Freeport, New York 11520
Source: Family Center on Technology and Disability