|Vol. 3, No. 2, March/April 1995||
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FINANCING ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY: A Way of Thinking
Ron Sibert, Funding Specialist, DATI
Locating funding for assistive technology has been described by some as a science. Others consider it an art. Still others call it an exercise in patience and persistence. Sometimes, though, it is simply a way of thinking.
The field of assistive technology is quickly evolving beyond the traditional medical model. Educational and vocational applications are taking on lives of their own, and such equipment cannot always be purchased through public or private medical insurance. The resources of charitable organizations are also often limited. Then there are the far reaching implications of laws such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act as amended (sometimes requiring various agencies to purchase assistive devices). But this, mostly because of the perceived expected cost, has generated a fair amount of concern in the business, educational and political arenas. The search is on for creative solutions.
In his famous book, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Richard Bach tells the story of Jonathan, a bird who wanted to fly faster and farther than any bird had ever flown. At one point in the story, he asks a sage to show him the fastest method of reaching a particular mountain peak that stood far off in the distance. His mentor told him that the fastest way to reach his goal was simply "to be there."
In the world of assistive technology funding, "being there" can mean being sufficiently aware to make the right purchase at the right time for the right reasons. At the agency level, it means purchasing only equipment that is, or can easily be made, accessible. A little forethought can not only make the purchase of technology much less expensive in the long run, but taken as a common practice, it can even influence the types of products that are made available for purchase on the open market. For example, schools, businesses, service providers, financial institutions, and others are relying increasingly on technology to perform almost every function in their respective operations. Imagine a world in which these organizations' purchasing officers were aware of disability-related issues-so much so that all of the office machines and computers they purchased for everyone had accessibility features built into them. Given legal requirements and limited budgets, this enlightened approach to purchasing makes a great deal of sense-dollars and sense.
For instance, when a company or school buys a computer that can accommodate a range of input and output devices, the special needs of individuals with a variety of disabilities can be met by simply "plugging in" the appropriate adaptations. This is clearly preferable to buying a whole new set of machines or having to make costly (and often unreliable) modifications to an existing system. The marketplace is also affected in this scenario because as purchasing for accessibility becomes more commonplace, mainstream manufacturers respond to the increased demand by producing even higher quantities of accessible products for general consumption.
Similarly for individuals, getting the most for the dollar depends on the awareness and preparedness of the buyer. Selecting the appropriate device for a particular person is best accomplished through an evaluation by a qualified (usually health care) professional. Purchasing the equipment that best serves the individual's needs is the one sure-fire way to avoid wasteful, multiple purchases. Again... a way of thinking.