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TAP Bulletin - September 1998
EXCHANGE/RECYCLING PROGRAMS OFFER NEW LIFE FOR AT DEVICES
Assistive technology (AT) equipment exchange and recycling programs offer alternatives for consumers and professionals to reduce the cost of devices and equipment and improve their availability.
· Equipment exchange programs match individuals who need assistive technology devices with people who are selling or donating such devices.
· Equipment recycling programs maintain physical possession of the equipment, reconditions the used equipment as needed, and offers it for sale or donates it.
Why Establish a Program
Exchange and recycling programs take equipment that would otherwise be abandoned and put it back into circulation. Exchange and recycled equipment programs provide options for customers who need equipment that would not be reimbursed by third party payers. For example, backup wheel chairs and shower chairs are not typically covered by Medicaid. However, consumers can buy these items used through exchange and recycling programs at affordable prices.
Exchange and recycling programs can shorten the time it takes for consumers to receive devices. For example, the New Jersey Tech Act project operates an equipment exchange program, Back In Action, that matches buyers with sellers in 3 weeks, on the average, as opposed to a 6-12 month turn around time for buyers of new equipment who are eligible for public funding.
Parents can use recycled devices to fill their children's need for assistive technology as the children grow and their needs change. Exchange and recycling programs are also sources of recreational assistive technology, which is not usually paid for by public or private funders.
Table 1 details equipment exchange programs. Often projects do not track the number of matches, since they don't have the equipment in their possession nor monitor the agreements between parties. However, of those that are able to track these data, there were over 500 matches made in the past year.
Table 2 summarizes existing recycling programs. Since the projects have control of the items, the number of recycled items are easier to track. Over 8,000 items were recycled in the past year.
Equipment Exchange Programs
Exchange services are often accessed through the project's information services. Typical of these exchange programs is the Delaware Assistive Technology Initiative's (DATI) program. In its quarterly newsletter it lists assistive technology devices that are either being donated, sold, or requested. Contact information gives the first names of the persons who are donating, selling or needing the assistive technology device and their phone numbers. Initially DATI had not published contact information but found the volume of calls overwhelmed the limited DATI staff resources. Also DATI found that staff could not answer questions about specific items being sold, nor did they have updated information on whether items were still available because they did not have physical possession of the device.
Individuals interested in using the exchange service may contact the person selling the equipment directly. The two parties negotiate the price of the item and any shipping or transportation arrangements. Equipment is purchased "as is" with no warranties or guarantees.
To promote the exchange program, DATI distributes its newsletter to various agencies, such as the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Division for the Visually Impaired, as well as durable medical equipment suppliers, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and speech-language pathologists. It also makes the listing available to its AT Resource Centers and is in the process of adding the list to its web site. DATI has noted that many service providers routinely check the listing for devices their clients needs. Surprisingly, a large number of referrals to DATI come from durable medical equipment (DME) providers.
Use of Web Sites for Equipment Exchange
Many state Tech Act projects post their list of devices for exchange on their web sites. The Washington Assistive Technology Alliance (WATA) has an online database called the "AT Exchange." It functions as a marketplace for the exchange, sale, and donation of AT devices, including computers, software, and modems. The project collects data on who used the database, for what purpose, and whether they were successful in obtaining or selling/donating the item. When a person finds a listing they are interested in, they select the link to the e-mail address of the contact person to express their interest or to ask any questions they may have. Persons who do not have an e-mail address or who use public libraries or their friend's system to access the database can list the devices using a default e-mail address. Those without access to the Internet can use the database by calling the WATA's toll free number. Project staff will post the listings, collect responses, and facilitate communications between interested parties. The database, including the search functions, is fully accessible to those using text-based browsers and adaptive computer access.
Equipment Recycling Programs
Several projects operate equipment recycling programs. The Arkansas ICAN Project combines its recycling program with its equipment exchange and equipment loan programs. ICAN is able to call on the combined resources of all three programs to meet the needs of the state's citizens with disabilities.
For the recycling program, ICAN receives donated equipment from a variety of sources. This equipment is refurbished by Tech Act project staff and volunteers and then donated to individuals or local schools to fill specific needs.
The donations come primarily from individuals and state agencies. For example, Children's Medical Services, the state's Medicaid provider, gives ICAN equipment as new equipment is provided to Medicaid recipients. ICAN also receives donations from DME vendors and other organizations. The Arkansas MS Society donated its small collection of equipment to ICAN because it felt that one larger collection would be more efficient and effective in meeting the AT needs of the citizens in the state.
Specialization in Computer Recycling
In Nevada, Accessible Space Inc., a private non-profit organization, has been operating the state's assistive technology recycling program for the last two years under a grant from its state's Tech Act project. It specializes in recycling computers, although it handles durable medical equipment and other AT as well. Accessible Space receives donations of large quantities of computers, including those with Pentium chips, from state agencies and commercial donors, such as the Nevada Power Company. A skilled crew of volunteers conducts a diagnostic evaluation of the equipment, refurbishes them with additional parts as needed, and then sells them. The organization sells about 12 computer packages a month. The Center also provides training to the individuals buying the equipment and helps with the set up. Funds from the sale of the equipment are used to purchase repair parts and help sustain the recycling program.
Vendor Resale Model
The Recycled Equipment Marketplace (REM) is operated by ATECH Services, a nonprofit agency developed in collaboration with the New Hampshire Tech Act project. It originally served just New
Table 1. Equipment Exchange Programs
Table 2. Equipment Recycling Programs
* DME - Durable Medical Equipment
* AT - Assistive Technology Devices
Hampshire but has now expanded to serve the entire northeastern region of the country, encompassing Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont.
Like other recycling programs, REM receives equipment through donations from individuals and health related organizations. However, once the equipment is refurbished, the program acts like a wholesaler and sells it not to consumers but to participating durable medical equipment vendors. Consumers access the program by contacting their DME vendor. Currently there are eleven vendors participating in the program. Each pays a $200 annual fee and has access to the entire inventory. Vendors agree to take on the liability for any product they sell. They also handle third party billing and agree to deal with replacement, warranty, and ongoing service issues.
The REM provides high quality recycled equipment in good working order on a regular basis. Vendors can use the REM as a source of equipment to fill short term customer rental needs as well as fill requests for equipment for demonstration and assessment for up to 30 days prior to purchase. Vendors who are unable to see the equipment at the warehouse, can obtain a photo through the Internet. There is also 24 hour access to the current inventory from the equipment exchange web site.
Both Medicaid and Medicare in New Hampshire have been very supportive of the REM because they see that recycled equipment can be purchased for less than half of what new equipment would cost. New Hampshire Medicaid routinely reimburses vendors for the purchase of recycled equipment. Private insurance has been equally supportive. If a customer's HMO has a cap on the amount of equipment that can be purchased, the lower price of recycled equipment allows the customer to purchase more within the limit.
Vendors also look to REM as a reliable source for parts for older equipment. REM tears down excess equipment that can not be refurbished and keeps the parts. The spare parts have created a separate new market for the vendors. The used parts are inexpensive and consumers appreciate using recycled parts since insurance companies usually do not reimburse for repairs and manufacturers often discontinue making replacement parts for older models.
Recycling and exchange programs fill several needs. They make assistive technology available to individuals with disabilities at reduced cost or no cost. They supply needed equipment in a timely manner, and they make convenience and other items (such as backup devices and recreational technology) affordable to many consumers. These programs also leverage resources by reusing equipment that otherwise would be abandoned.<
The RESNA Technical Assistance Project, Grant #H224A50006, is an activity funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), U. S. Department of Education (ED) under the Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988, as amended. The information contained herein does not necessarily reflect the position or policy of NIDRR/ED or RESNA and no official endorsement of the materials should be inferred.
The National Assistive Technology Technical Assistance Partnership is a cooperative agreement between the U.S. Department of Education and RESNA. The grant (Grant #H224B050003; CFDA 84.224B) is funded under the Assistive Technology Act of 1998, as amended and administered by the Rehabilitation Services Administration, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education.
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