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Delaware Assistive Technology Initiative

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Vol. 10, No. 3 Summer/Fall 2002

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Progress on Alternative Financing for AT Purchase

DATI and others have been working hard during the last few months to bring an alternative financing, or low-interest loan, program to Delaware for the purchase of assistive technology. This exciting opportunity is possible because the United States Department of Education's National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) is expanding a low-interest AT loan program already in existence in a number of other states. If our application in this competitive process is successful, NIDRR will match every $1 raised in Delaware from public or private sources with $3 in federal funds.

The other states that have low-interest loan programs in place typically feature loan guarantee and/or interest rate buy-down approaches. These programs are administered through established financial institutions and they have helped many people pay for home and vehicle modifications, computers, hearing aids and other types of AT that are rarely funded by third party sources such as public and private insurance and state agencies.

On May 2, 2002, DATI sponsored a day-long workshop at Del Tech's Wilmington campus for persons interested in this initiative. A diverse audience of more than 50 attendees, including persons with disabilities, advocates, health care providers, governmental officials, and representatives of financial institutions, heard an excellent presentation by Dr. Joey Wallace, a consultant from Virginia with considerable expertise in creating and administering alternative financing programs. Both Beth Mineo, DATI's Director, and the Director of Maryland's low-interest loan program also spoke about the need for and the benefits of such programs. The questions and other comments from the audience indicated a very strong interest in creating an alternative financing program in Delaware.

Later in May and throughout June, Dr. Mineo Mollica and Tom McDonough, DATI's Funding and Policy Specialist, worked with Senator Harris B. McDowell III and other legislators in the Delaware General Assembly toward the passage of legislation that would increase the available funding options for AT. Senator McDowell introduced Senate Bill 377, "The Delaware Personal Mobility and Vehicular Transportation Access Act," which proposed to create a Delaware Assistive Technology Trust for the administration of grants and loans to pay for personal mobility devices (such as walkers, wheelchairs, and scooters), vehicular assistive technology (such as hand controls, vehicle ramps, and passenger restraint systems), and other assistive technology.

After Dr. Mollica and Mr. McDonough testified about the need for alternative financing for such technology on June 20th, the Senate heard moving testimony from Ann Phillips and her son, Aaron Deede, a young man who became an AT user following a motor vehicle accident approximately two years ago. The Senate eventually passed an amended version of Senate Bill 377, yet the bill failed to pass in the House of Representatives in the waning hours of the last legislative session

Despite this setback, the General Assembly enabled us to keep this initiative moving forward with a provision in the Bond Bill establishing a Delaware Assistive Technology Policy Committee. This Committee, which includes Dr. Mineo Mollica, elected and appointed officials, and others, is charged with studying this issue, holding hearings, and presenting its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly by mid-January 2003. Up to $100,000 is available to support the Committee's work.

On another front, DATI has worked diligently to secure financial and technical assistance from a number of local financial institutions and foundations so that Delaware can present a well-planned and competitive application to NIDRR. We are confident that these efforts will result in a significant State "match" so that, combined with the three federal dollars for every state dollar, we can maximize the benefits for Delawareans with disabilities. We expect to submit Delaware's application to NIDRR in Spring 2003.

Between now and the spring, there is much be done. We intend to distribute an AT loan survey to better gauge the level of interest and need for a low-interest loan program. A work group will research the existing low-interest A.T loan models in other states and recommend a model that best meets Delaware's needs. We intend to convene a meeting to solicit comments from interested parties on the proposed model and, if warranted, we will renew our efforts in the Delaware General Assembly. We welcome your support.

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