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Paying for Your Assistive Technology in College

Assistive Technology - CollegeIf you’re a student with a learning disability (LD) and you rely on assistive technology (AT) to succeed, you’ll want to know what resources may be available to you in college. Once you provide sufficient documentation of your learning disability, your college is responsible for providing you with reasonable accommodations. However, the college is not required to provide an assistive technology device if:  

  • a similar (and equally effective) alternative is already provided;
  • the AT device is not something that contributes to your learning needs;
  • using the AT tool requires a significant alteration of the college’s program or activity;
  • providing this AT tool causes an undue financial burden to the college or university.

Funding Sources

So how will you be able to get funding for AT tools if your college won’t provide everything you need? One solution (and you can get started on this even before graduating from high school) is to create afunding pool” from sources such as the ones listed below.

College Financial Aid

Contact your financial aid office before you arrive on campus so you can learn what’s available from your state, the school itself, and other sources. Financial aid can help eligible students pay for supplemental expenses (like books, AT devices and housing). The most common forms of aid include: grants, loans, work study, and scholarships. Don’t assume that your college has no funding available for AT assistance! Colleges often have information about alumni grants and other targeted scholarship offerings that are not widely publicized in course catalogues or application materials.

When you’re working with the college financial aid office, keep in mind that the Higher Education Act (HEA) states:
  • Students can request an increase in college financial aid because of out-of-pocket disability-related expenses (e.g., assistive technology).
  • Colleges should allow for reasonable disability-related expenses that are not paid for by other assisting agencies when defining a student’s cost of attendance.

If the financial aid office staff seems unfamiliar with the provisions of the HEA, ask someone in the campus disability services office to help you explain it to them.

Vocational Rehabilitation Services

Every state has Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) offices that help individuals with disabilities apply for and obtain employment. If having assistive technology is necessary for your postsecondary education and future employment,you may be eligible for VR services while in college. Services may include: free evaluations, counseling and guidance, and rehabilitation technology (i.e. assistive technology).
To be eligible for VR services, you must generally meet these requirements:
  • You have a documented disability
  • Your disability prevents you from obtaining or keeping a job.
  • You require VR services to prepare for, engage in, or retain employment.

Rather than waiting to see if your college will fund all your AT needs, start early by applying to your state VR agency in your last two years of high school. If you are found eligible for services while you’re still in high school, a VR counselor can participate in your college planning and transition. The VR counselor can help you develop a documented Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE) by the time you meet with your university’s disability office. An IPE is a written plan that assesses a student’s employment goals and the specific services (e.g., AT in college) needed to reach these goals. While you can still apply for VR assistance once you get to college, the VR agencies provide services on a priority basis so you may be put on a waiting list. Be aware that VR agencies vary from state to state, so become familiar with the VR policies in your state of residency and in any other state(s) where you might attend college.

Social Security Support: SSI, PASS, and Medicaid

Students who have disabilities but have very little income may be eligible for support from their state and/or the federal government.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a federal program that will pay monthly benefits to individuals who are disabled and who have little or no income or resources. Find out if you are eligible: Take 10 minutes to use the online Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool. When thinking about SSI, it’s important to note:

The amount of payment SSI can give you depends on your family income and resources.
You must be older than 18 to be eligible for an SSI.
Your disability must substantially interfere with your ability to learn, work, or function.

The Social Security Administration may also approve a student’s qualification for a Plan for Achieving Self Support (PASS). This plan allows you to set aside money to pay for equipment (e.g., AT tools) you will use in reaching your specific vocational goal, while you continue to receive SSI payments.

Medicaid is a state program that provides assistance to individuals with low income, including people with disabilities. Medicaid will purchase, lease, or rent various types of assistive devices only if the piece of equipment is considered “medically necessary” for the individual to function. This option may be helpful for students who have LD in addition to a co-occurring condition such as AD/HD, clinical depression, or anxiety disorders and, for whom medical treatment (e.g., medication) is needed on an ongoing basis.

Depending on the college, students receiving SSI, Medicaid funding, or state VR benefits may not be permitted to participate in a college work-study program. Be sure you ask the campus disability office and financial aid office about the specific criteria for work-study participation.

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Tags: college-adult