When someone calls us looking for help getting their assistive technology (AT), one of the first questions we ask is whether they are enrolled in a waiver – that is, one of Pennsylvania’s Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) waivers. For many people with disabilities, waivers are a major source of funding for AT.
But waivers have their limitations. Not everyone with a disability qualifies for a waiver. In fact, children with a physical disability (where intellectual disability is not a primary diagnosis) are not eligible for waiver services until they reach the age of 18.
Note: Learn more about waiver funding for assistive technology in Chapter 4 of our book, Funding Your Assistive Technology. Refer to page 20 for a table comparing Pennsylvania’s waiver programs, including age of eligibility.
A Major Gap in Public Funding for AT for Children with Physical Disabilities
This means that public funding for AT is limited for kids with such disabilities as cerebral palsy, spinal muscular atrophy, muscular dystrophy, and others, as well as acquired physical disabilities like a spinal cord injury.
With that in mind, we’ve rounded up some of the top public and private funding resources for assistive technology for kids under 18 with physical disabilities – and provided a few examples of the AT these resources may cover.
Top 5 Funding Resources for AT for Kids with Physical Disabilities
1. Early Intervention
Early Intervention services are available in Pennsylvania for children from birth to age five with developmental delays. Supports and services offered through Early Intervention are designed to meet the developmental needs of the child in one or more of the following areas:
- Physical development, including vision and hearing
- Cognitive development
- Communication development
- Social or emotional development
- Adaptive development
These services include assistive technology devices and services. For example, your Early Intervention program may be able to provide your child with an evaluation to help determine the best seating and positioning equipment for them, purchase or otherwise acquire the device for your child, and fit or customize it for your child’s use.
2. Health Insurance
Your child’s health insurance, including private insurance and Medical Assistance (Medicaid), may be able to pay for durable medical equipment. Durable medical equipment (DME) is equipment ordered by a health care provider for everyday or extended use. An AT device may be considered DME and would be paid for by a health insurance policy if it meets these criteria:
- It is reasonable and necessary for the individual patient;
- It can withstand repeated use;
- It is primarily used to serve a medical purpose;
- It is not helpful to a person who does not have a disability, an illness, or an injury; and
- It is appropriate for use in the home.
Examples of DME include manual and power wheelchairs, scooters, hospital beds, portable ramps, stair glides, and track lifts.
When seeking durable medical equipment for your child, you’ll need to document the need and get a doctor’s prescription. If the DME request is denied, you may need to file an appeal. Pennsylvania Health Law Project provides free legal help to Pennsylvanians seeking health coverage through publicly funded programs like Medical Assistance, and to those who have been denied a medically necessary service such as DME.
When assistive technology is necessary to enable your child to access a free, appropriate, public education (FAPE), it is the responsibility of your Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 team to include the AT in your child’s plan, and it is the responsibility of your local educational agency (LEA) to provide that technology (read about how LEAs fund AT).
Important note: Did you know that when your LEA uses your child’s ACCESS Card (provided by your child’s health insurance) to pay for the AT, then that AT device legally belongs to your child – not the school. This means that device doesn’t have to remain at school, but should go home with your child if your child will use it at home. And, when the school year ends, it belongs to your child.
Examples of AT that may be funded through school include wheelchairs, augmentative communication devices, eye-gaze systems, hearing aids, loop systems, and amplification systems, among others.
4. Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Foundation (PATF)
In addition to helping families learn about assistive technology funding resources, PATF offers zero-interest and low-interest financial loans without any fees for the purchase of assistive technology devices and services. We help Pennsylvanians of all ages, all income levels, all disabilities and health conditions, and all communities and cultural backgrounds. And, we are a consumer choice organization, which means applicants can purchase the AT device/service they want from the vendor they choose without having to provide a prescription, exhaust other funding resources, or pursue multiple bids.
We have provided loans to families with children with physical disabilities to purchase a wide range of assistive technology. Examples of the AT devices we finance most frequently include: home modifications (such as roll-in showers, permanent ramps, and widened doorways), vehicle adaptations (such as a lowered floor, ramp, and wheelchair tie-downs), tablets and apps, and smart home technology.
5. Private Grants
There are a variety of organizations that provide grants for assistive technology. Some organizations work specifically with people with a certain diagnosis, others focus on a certain age range, and others focus on certain types of AT. Below we have listed a few of those resources that may be helpful for families of children with physical disabilities. You can learn more about these funding resources and 61 more in our funding guide.
This organization provides supplemental supports and services to children and adults with intellectual, physical, and behavioral disabilities who have no other resources to obtain the needed product or service.
This organization provides interim funds for otherwise financially stable families to help them handle a financial need related to their child’s illness, disability, or traumatic injury. Average dollar amount varies based on the request, but there is a maximum of $10,000 over the course of one year.
This fund provides financial assistance with a wide range of expenses not covered by insurance to families caring for children with serious, chronic, or critical illnesses, health conditions, and disabilities. Funding is generally no more than $500.
The Home Modifications for Independence (HMI) program provides financial grants to make homes more accessible to promote greater independence and self-determination.
This fund is a “last resort” option, meaning that any other funding sources for which the applicant is eligible must have denied full or partial coverage. This is a one-time only award with a maximum of $200.
One Final Note: ABLE Accounts
We can’t discuss funding for assistive technology for children with disabilities without mentioning ABLE accounts. ABLE accounts are savings accounts specifically for people who have acquired a disability before the age of 26. These accounts make it possible to save money without jeopardizing eligibility for government benefits, such as Medical Assistance.
The money saved in an ABLE account is not taxed, and can be used for assistive technology, day-to-day living expenses, transportation, medical expenses, utilities, housing expenses, as well as saving for long-term goals. You can access your ABLE account with a debit card, checks, and automatic payment transfers, just like a bank account. Learn more at paable.gov and on our financial education website, StudyMoney.us.
Do you know what assistive technology you or your child needs, but have questions about the funding resources available to pay for it? Download or request a copy of our book, Funding Your Assistive Technology. Need more help? Contact us!