Published on April 25, 2019

Having trouble finding affordable medical equipment?

The right equipment can make a world of difference to someone with a disability, but the cost can be prohibitive.

For example, a tilt-in-space wheelchair or stroller designed for a disabled child might cost $2,000 or more. Hearing aids run from several hundred to several thousand dollars. While canes, walkers and other low-tech devices may be relatively inexpensive, there’s a rapidly growing market of new technological solutions for people with physical, cognitive, auditory and visual disabilities, and the prices range from low to high. Consider that many disabled people require several pieces of equipment to go about their daily lives, and the total cost quickly adds up and health insurance may only cover a portion.

Assisted devices and assisted technology and services are used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities, said Joanna Hollywood, OT, CHT, an occupational therapist with Cape Cod Healthcare’s Rehabilitation Services in Orleans. This can include assessing for and providing adaptive equipment and tools, customizing them, and providing training to patients (clients), their families and their care providers.

“Such devices and services are also intended to improve function for those who need assistance for a short-term illness or injury,” she said. “Occupational and physical therapists, physicians, and healthcare providers, work together with vendors, to make specific recommendations for patients. The goal is to optimize their functional outcomes in the context of their social and physical environment.” 

Local Help

Fortunately, assistive equipment can be obtained with the help of several local non-profit organizations and government programs that loan or donate equipment, both new and used, as well as provide low-interest loans or personal assistance in obtaining equipment or applying for help.

“We probably have currently 300 active consumers. There’s a lot of need of out there,” said Cathy Taylor, director of services at Cape Organization for Rights of the Disabled, or CORD, which has its office in Hyannis.

CORD helps people with disabilities determine what they need and how to obtain it, she said. The organization has catalogs of equipment and advisors to help sort out what insurance may cover.

“We’re a good place to start,” Taylor said. “We help with any disability, any age, any income.”

Referring to the large percentage of older residents on the Cape and islands, she added “Age and disability sometimes go hand in hand.”

For low-tech mobility solutions, such as canes and walkers, most local senior centers have equipment loan closets, she said.

For local assistance for deaf and hard of hearing people, she cited Deaf, Inc., a Hyannis-based organization that can help determine what assistive equipment, such as a vibrating alarm clock, amplified phones or baby cry signaler, would be helpful. Deaf, Inc. does require proof of income to determine eligibility, as it receives federal funds to purchase equipment.

Pass It On is a Mashpee-based non-profit that provides recycled durable medical equipment to families of children who lack the insurance coverage or funds to buy them. It is run through the efforts of founder George Navin and donations of equipment and supplies.

“All we have is a delivery charge – most of what we have is free,” he said. Delivery typically costs $35-$50, can be made throughout Eastern Massachusetts.

He said the stress of having a child with disabilities causes some marriages to break up and, as a result, many of his customers are single-parent households. Navin said families may need two types of mobility devices, but insurance policies may only cover one.

“We average 70 to 80 people on a waiting list every day,“ he said. “It can be pretty custom on what people need.”

Pass It On served about 150 families last year, and operates on an annual budget of $25,000, Navin said. He estimated the equipment donated last year would cost about $400,000 if purchased.

Pass It On does not offer hospital beds, due to the physical difficulty of delivering them, nor does it supply communication boards, power chairs or electronic equipment, because the technology keeps changing, he said. While its primary focus is children under 22, anyone of any age is welcome to call for help, he said.

Other Programs

Low-interest loans to buy equipment can be applied for via the Massachusetts Assistive Technology Loan Program, which is paid for with state and federal grants through the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission and operated by Easter Seals.

The loan program is part of  MassMATCH, which also operates three regional centers where residents can borrow and try out assistive equipment, as well as a website, GetATstuff, where used equipment can be sold or advertised, and REquipment, a program that provides refurbished used durable medical equipment such as wheelchairs, shower chairs and scooters for free without requiring insurance or a doctor’s order.

The Massachusetts Statewide Independent Living Council maintains a list of assistive and online technology websites.

Some large-scale disability organizations, such the Muscular Dystrophy Association, have equipment loan programs at some local offices. Service organizations, such as Lions Club International and the Knights of Columbus, may also help with raising funds, according to the Assistive Technology Industry Association, which offers a guide to resources.

Disability can result from a stroke or heart attack, a car accident or injury, an inherited disorder or weakness from advanced age.

In the United States, the amount of the population with a disability was estimated at 12.8 percent in 2016, according to a report by the Rehabilitation and Training Center on Disability Statistics and Demographics at the University of New Hampshire. Aging of the population is expected to raise that percentage.