Program promotes reuse of assistive technology
The Delaware Assistive Technology Initiative (DATI) at the University has received some assistance of its own, in the form of a three-year, $600,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Rehabilitation Services Administration.
The grant, announced in January, will be used to improve access to assistive devices by Delawareans with disabilities.
DATI and its partners will use the money to help Delawareans with disabilities who need assistive devices but cannot afford them. A special program operated by the consortium allows such devices to be reutilized, offering an efficient, cost-effective and safe alternative for anyone with disabilities.
Assistive technology encompasses any device that helps people with disabilities complete various tasks, and it includes everything from canes to special chairs to unique hardware and software for computers.
The DATI consortium, which includes 19 state agencies and organizations that serve people with disabilities, held a kickoff retreat in January on the University campus to explore ways to make equipment reutilization a reality across Delaware.
“The [reutilization] project is unique in that it not only provides a service to people with disabilities, but it also is fiscally and environmentally responsible,” Beth Mineo Mollica, DATI director, says. “We are grateful to the Department of Education for providing funding to help us better serve the people of this state.”
Mollica says a large number of state residents have assistive devices that are no longer being used and now are stored in their basements, closets, attics and garages. At the same time, she says, thousands of people in Delaware need assistive devices that they cannot afford to purchase. Many Delawareans are uninsured or underinsured, so they cannot rely on health insurance to cover their needs for assistive devices, and even those with insurance find that plans often exclude the vast majority of such devices from coverage.
Mollica says reusing equipment saves taxpayer dollars and individual resources, and it keeps previously owned equipment out of landfills.
“In supporting innovative efforts to provide for the reuse of assistive technology devices, this new grant provides a very interesting twist on the notion of recycling,” UD President David P. Roselle said in announcing the grant. “It is a way to be both fiscally responsible and environmentally friendly, in addition to meeting for the needs of Delawareans. It’s a win-win-win situation.”
Mollica says the grant will help the state to build on its existing capacity for recycling and reuse of assistive technology devices to create a coordinated, streamlined system for connecting individuals in need of such devices with sources in the community.
Delaware is fortunate to have many existing resources that can be marshaled in support of assistive technology recycling and reuse, Mollica says. Some state agencies have already made a commitment to reuse equipment, although the programs are limited by a variety of constraints. The state’s Medicaid program, which purchases a large amount of equipment for beneficiaries, seeks to expand the impact of these purchases.
The Colonial Chapter of the Paralyzed Veterans of America has operated an equipment recycling program for many years, and the Milton Lions Club maintains a warehouse of hospital beds, crutches, walkers and wheelchairs.
The Delaware Solid Waste Authority operates numerous recycling initiatives, including those targeting consumer electronics and other mainstream goods, and the Opportunity Center Inc.’s electronics recycling program not only serves the state’s commitment to environmentally appropriate waste disposal but also employs individuals with disabilities in this pursuit. It maintains warehouse locations and a fleet of vehicles to transport equipment and materials.
Also, Mollica says, DATI has developed a web-based Assistive Technology Exchange that efficiently connects those having technology they no longer need with those seeking such technologies. Jeremy Buzzell, program specialist with the Department of Education’s Rehabilitation Services Administration, says promotion of the reuse of assistive technology is a priority for the federal agency. The administration considers the grant an investment, he says, because the work accomplished in Delaware will serve as a model to help other states.
DATI was established with federal funding in 1991 to help improve access to assistive technology for Delawareans. Among other services, the program operates resource centers in each county that provide equipment demonstrations and short-term loans of equipment for trial use periods at no cost.
Recognizing how much equipment was out there but not being used, in 1993 DATI launched its assistive technology exchange program that enables individuals to buy, sell or give away used devices through a “want ad” system.With the launch of a website [www.dati.org] in March 2004, the service became automated.