A Different Approach to Alternative Financing for AT
PRATP is making AT accessible by actually making AT! Here Mauricio Lizama, Ph.D., ATP, describes their unique approach to a state financing activity and how it helps residents with disabilities in Puerto Rico and beyond.The Puerto Rico Assistive Technology Program (PRATP) developed the Low Cost Device Design and Development (LD3) program in February 2007 as a State Financing Activity for the Assistive Technology State Grant Program. After previous attempts to implement low interest loans and other alternative financing programs in Puerto Rico, the LD3 program was created under the category of "state financing activities that allow consumers to obtain AT at reduced cost."
The LD3 program designs and develops low cost devices that mimic AT solutions on the market, and provides installation, configuration, and training for the end user. The AT user pays only for the materials needed for the construction of the device.
A consumer's device request qualifies for LD3 program assistance if it falls under one or more of the following scenarios:
1. The desired AT device does not exist on the market: In this case, PRATP works with the consumer to fabricate an AT device to satisfy the particular needs of the individual with disabilities (i.e. develop a head-controlled videogame system for a quadriplegic child).
2. The AT device exists, but it must be modified to make it usable by the consumer (i.e. adapt an electric feeder controller to be activated through a fiber-optic switch).
3. The AT device exists, but it is too expensive to be obtained otherwise. In this case, the adaptation targets the functionality of the original device but with a different design, therefore preventing intellectual property issues (i.e. adapt a $45 mouth controlled joystick with sip-n-puff to provide the functionality of similar products available in the AT market for $1,500 and over).
To implement the LD3 program, PRATP assembled an AT Development Team (ATDT) which receives referrals of technology needs from consumers, family members, local AT evaluation centers and health related professionals statewide. The ATDT is comprised of volunteers from several fields including assistive technology, engineering, rehabilitation technology, electronics and human factors engineering. The LD3 program also leads design teams of mechanical, electrical and computer engineering students and faculty at local universities for the development of complex technologies that are beyond the design and manufacturing capabilities of the program.
To create the university partnerships, PRATP worked in direct collaboration with faculty in charge of existing engineering design courses and Capstone projects. Prior to PRATP's involvement, faculty members were using Capstone and engineering courses for researching and designing technologies in response to design competitions (i.e. battlebots and solar race cars). Most of these projects were never actually constructed. PRATP worked with faculty and students to redirect their efforts to an applied research and development track focused on AT for people with disabilities, projects that are actually constructed and have real-life impact.
Examples of some adapted devices built by the LD3 program are: electronic circular scanning communicators, laser-based communication board systems, customized seating systems for school, computer-based dynamic communication systems, adapted shower seats, computer-based and voice activated bed control systems, computer switch interfaces, head controlled video game systems, single and multi-switch controlled electric ride on cars, low cost head tracking systems, environmental controls, mouth controlled joysticks with sip-n-puff, electronic musical instrument tuners for the blind, switch adapted baseball pitching machines, adapted switches (pad, lever, tilt, sip-n-puff, string, cap switch, touch switch, etc.) among several other devices.
PRATP compares the cost of each adapted device with the market version of its closest match (when available) in order to track the financial impact of the low cost solutions it provides. As of December 2009, consumers had invested $3,645 (since 2007) in order to obtain over $62,000 worth of AT devices through the LD3 program. For consumers, this translates into savings of over 94% in the acquisition of needed technologies in the areas of education, employment and community living. Cost to consumers includes only materials, since labor is provided by the LD3 team. However, even if labor is included in the cost comparison, the devices still represent over 70% savings over their closest AT match on the market.
Outside Puerto Rico, the LD3 program has also been able to provide context-sensitive solutions to consumers in Latin America particularly because of its emphasis on the design and development of “low cost high tech devices” and in technologies that address particular needs of Hispanics with disabilities. The car in the photo on the right was adapted by PRATP and then donated to a program in Mexico that provides services to children with disabilities. To learn more about the LD3 program visit PRATP’s web page.
Mauricio Lizama is the coordinator of the Assistive Technology Design, Evaluation and Development Unit at PRATP.
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