Funding Sources for Assistive Technology
Research shows that funding is one of the biggest obstacles to the acquisition of assistive technology for children with disabilities. For this reason, it is important that parents and professionals work together collaboratively to explore all possible funding options. Some of these options are described below.
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Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
Under Part B of IDEA, assistive technology must be provided by the school district at no cost to the family, if it is identified as part of a child's IEP (34 CFR §300.105).
Under Part C, if assistive technology is identified as part of a child's IFSP, it must be provided at no cost (34 CFR §303.13), unless subject to 34 CFR §303.520 and 34 CFR §303.521, where Federal or State law provides for a system of payments by families, including a schedule of sliding fees. Federal regulations also state that Part C programs are "payers of last resort" (34 CFR §303.510), which means that Part C dollars may not be used to pay for early intervention services that would otherwise have been paid for from another public or private source. No eligible child can be denied an assistive technology device or service because of a family's inability to pay.
Private Medical Insurance
Many private insurance policies will pay for AT services and devices that are deemed medically necessary and prescribed by the child's physician. The use of medical insurance to fund assistive technology must be voluntary on the part of families and must not result in any cost to the family. Excerpts from the following policy letters clarify this subject.
OSEP Letters of Clarification
- Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS) Policy Letter to Rose, 18 Individuals with Disabilities Educ. L. Rep. 531 (9/19/91)
- The AT must be at no cost to parent or child.
- The LEA may access Medicaid or private insurance
- Use must be voluntary; cannot deny services if parent refuses to authorize use
- Use of other insurance must not result in any cost to parent, such as: (a) copayment; (b) deductible; and (c) reduction of an upper limit on coverage.
- OSEP Policy Letter to Dr. O. Spann, 20 Individuals with Disabilities Educ. L. Rep. 627 (9/10/93); OSEP Policy Letter to W. Cohen, 19 Individuals with Disabilities Educ. L. Rep. 278 (7/9/92)
- A parent's use of insurance is voluntary. If the parents refuse to consent to use of insurance, special education services cannot be denied.
- OSEP Policy Letter to Anonymous, 21 Individuals with Disabilities Educ. L. Rep. 1057 (8/9/94)
- If parents agree to use family-owned AT to fulfill IEP, school is responsible for maintenance and repair if damaged on school bus or at school.
- If the school did not use the family-owned device, it would be responsible for providing and maintaining a needed device.
- "States have considerable flexibility in the use of IDEA Part B funds that they may set aside for “other State-level activities” under 34 C.F.R. § 300.704(b)(4)4 that they may find beneficial during the current COVID-19 crisis. These include: (1) support for the use of technology to maximize accessibility to the general education curriculum for children with disabilities, including technology with universal design principles such as software compatible with screen readers, online tools that make electronic books accessible to individuals with disabilities, and assistive technology devices such as dedicated communication devices for non-verbal students with disabilities; and (2) capacity building activities directed at improving the delivery of services by LEAs to improve results for children with disabilities (34 C.F.R. § 300.704(b)(4)(iv) and (viii)).” Source: https://sites.ed.gov/idea/files/qa-part-b-use-of-funds-06-25-2020.pdf
Medicaid is a jointly funded Federal-State medical insurance program for certain individuals and families with low incomes and resources. Medically necessary assistive technology services are covered under Federal Medicaid law, and assistive technology devices that are considered durable medical equipment are often covered under a state's Medicaid regulations. Each state develops its own regulations, within broad national guidelines, and therefore the services covered may vary from state to state. Information about State Medicaid Programs is available online.
The Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment (EPSDT) program is a required component of State Medicaid programs. This program requires states to provide eligible children, from birth through age 21, any service listed in the Medicaid Act, even if it is not included in that state's Medicaid plan. This can be an important source of funding for assistive technology that may not otherwise be covered by a state's regular Medicaid program.
State AT Loan Programs
Many states have loan programs funded under the Assistive Technology Act of 2004. These programs provide low interest loans with long repayment schedules for qualifying individuals. The Center for Assistive Technology Act Data Assistance provides an interactive map detailing state by state information.
Assistive Technology (AT) reutilization is another option for obtaining assistive technology. The Pass It On Center: A National Collaboration for the Reutilization and Coordination of Assistive Technology maintains a national database of AT reuse programs in the U.S. to help more people with disabilities aquire reused AT across the country.
Other Funding Sources
Some organizations such as the Lions, Sertoma, Masons or Kiwanis Clubs, National Easter Seal Society, Muscular Dystrophy Association, United Way, United Cerebral Palsy Association and March of Dimes may provide funding for assistive technology. Financial Aid for Persons with Disabilities and Their Families, by Gail A. Schlachter and R. David Weber, is a directory that lists a large number of financial aid opportunities. Indexes for searching the directory by program title, sponsoring organization, geographic coverage, subject field, and application deadline are included. The directory is available at many public and academic libraries.