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Volume 11, Issue 4: Fall 2003

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Independence Through Assistive Technology Act of 2003

Martin Blair, Director, Utah Assistive Technology Program

The Assistive Technology Act of 1998 (AT Act) is scheduled to expire at the end of 2004. As this date approaches, a number of groups--including the Technology and Telecommunications Task Force of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities in Washington, DC -- have convened to talk about what a new federal assistive technology initiative should look like and how it should be implemented, and to devise various strategies for implementing assistive technology initiatives at the national level. The task force gathered input and collected suggestions from leaders in the House of Representatives and the Senate. The result is the proposed "Independence Through Assistive Technology Act of 2003."

The proposed legislation has two main sections. The first provides core state grants, technical assistance, and funding to address emerging technology-related initiatives. The second section provides for protection and advocacy services. The goals of the governor-designated core state grants are to ensure that people with disabilities have timely access to appropriate technology and that they have the skills they need to utilize technology to maximize their independence. State grantees must use the funds to provide device demonstrations, device loan programs, device reutilization programs, training, technical assistance, information systems, and interagency coordination. Additionally, states will be asked to identify at least two emerging issues, such as the New Freedom Initiative on Community Living or Help America Vote Act, and utilize grant funds to support activities that address current needs in identified areas. Funding may also be used to expand alternative financing programs, advocacy services and other activities approved by the U.S. Secretary of Education.

The proposed legislation outlines how each state will be guided by an advisory group that will be made up of no fewer than 51 percent of individuals with disabilities or their parents, guardians, or immediate family members. Data collection and reporting requirements are outlined for an annual report to Congress. Minimum grant amounts of $150,000 for outlying areas and $500,000 for states are established. Funding in excess of minimum grant amounts is to be distributed based on population. There is a 10 percent limit on administrative costs and an 8 percent match requirement for states. This proposed legislation also includes technical assistance for the core state grant programs.

Competitive supplementary grants may be awarded if funding is available. These one-year grants could be used to establish or expand alternative financing (cash loan) programs, expand equipment loan programs, expand device recycling programs, and develop other activities announced as a priority by the Secretary of Education. A match will be required for grants over $50,000 in the form of $1 nonfederal funds for every $2 in federal funding.

Funds are sought to provide protection and advocacy systems in each state. These will be designed to assist individuals with the acquisition, utilization, or maintenance of assistive technology devices and services. The proposed legislation requests approximately $60 million to fund this act. This is the amount appropriated to the AT Act in its largest funding year (2002). The disability advocacy community is hopeful that Congress and the administration will not only continue, but also enhance, its role in assisting individuals with disabilities in gaining access to the technologies they need to be more independent in the environments of their choice. Certainly, the existing structure of Assistive Technology Act programs including core state grants, Protection and Advocacy, Alternative Financing, and national technical assistance programs needs to be improved.

The proposed bill is an attempt to put the best suggestions into practice. Advocates believe that building on the expertise and experience of state Assistive Technology Act programs, and the protection and advocacy programs that accompany them, is a sound federal investment. Working with them to refine their role and to focus on specific emerging initiatives should be of paramount importance to all of us concerned with enabling individuals with disabilities to be independent, participating members of our society.

Reprinted with permission from the August, 2003 issue of AccessWorld (copyright 2003 American Foundation for the Blind). For more information about AccessWorld, visit www.afb.org/accessworld.asp.

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