Your State AT Program is a Good Place to Start
A good way to think about assistive technology (AT) is by identifying function – what is it the device will help a person with a disability do, like read text, type, hear the TV, dial the phone, rise more easily from a chair – rather than by diagnosis, e.g. AT for people with Parkinson’s, age, e.g. AT for seniors, or by setting, e.g. AT for work. Contact your state AT program for “information and assistance” to help narrow down a category. Depending upon the cost and complexity of the device in which you are interested, they may recommend you explore a formal evaluation, and/or suggest that you borrow the item from their device lending program. The state AT program may also offer to arrange a demonstration that provides you with “hands on” experience with AT devices. State AT Programs provide many free services (pdf). Most often there is no charge for information and assistance or a device demonstration. There is sometimes a nominal fee associated with borrowing a device to help cover shipping costs.
Ask your State AT Program for a demonstration of comparable products that have similar features but different prices.
If there’s a specific product you heard about, the state AT program may be able to introduce you to another device with more (or fewer) features that better fit your needs and pocketbook! Or, check out two or more similar devices from your state AT program’s lending library, to try before you buy.
Your State AT Program may be able to help you find funding sources.
Even if you think paying “out of pocket” is the only way to get the AT you want, the state AT program may know of other possibilities – public programs, community organizations, or other sources for grants or cash loans. In addition, some state AT programs administer programs that distribute specialized equipment such as telecommunication devices to eligible residents. Use the Find Your State Program directory to identify program services (i.e. other state financing) and a contact in your state. Funding sources, programs, and services vary from state to state.
Use your credit card with care.
If you are using a credit card and will not be paying off your monthly bill “in full”, you could be adding anywhere from 12% to 24% to the cost of the item, depending upon your interest rate. You may be better off with favorable terms offered by one of the “alternative financing programs” around the country; search the Find Your State directory to find the cash loan program in your state.
Shop mainstream retailers’ stores, catalogs, and websites.
Especially when it comes to products that might be useful for people without disabilities such as ergonomic keyboards or home automation systems, “generic” retailers like Best Buy, Staples, Home Depot, CVS or Walmart may carry the product in which you are interested. While Best Buy’s website recognizes the term “assistive technology” other sites list products under headings such as “health and wellness”, “disability aids”, and “home health care”. Compare these prices with other mainstream retailers, as well as with “specialized” resellers.
Comparison shop among “specialized” resellers.
Some assistive technology companies compile items from a range of manufacturers or vendors. Depending on the size of the company and other factors, prices may vary considerably. A recent search found variation of more than $100 for a “Go Talk 20+” communication device among such vendors as Attainment Company and Alimed. Amazon has a “Special Needs Storefront” department which provides several vendor options for a single product.
Factor in additional costs like shipping and handling.
Shipping and handling costs can add dollars to the purchase price. Consider whether the item is available at a nearby “brick and mortar” retailer, or whether free shipping is available (e.g. for Amazon “Prime” members).
Cheaper isn’t always better.
Check product reviews on websites, Facebook, and other sources. What do reviews say about the durability and functionality of the product? Warranty and customer service? Return policy?