Since 2002, Missouri Assistive Technology has worked to help K-12 schools’ budgets go further through their Assistive Technology Reimbursement (ATR) program. The ATR program works to offset the costs of procurement of AT for students with disabilities, reimbursing devices that cost anywhere between $300 and $5,000. Such devices include video magnification devices, personal assistive listening systems, augmentative communication devices, alternative keyboards, pointing devices, speech recognition software, text-to-speech software, tablets, laptops, and more. More than 80 school districts participate in the ATR program each year, reimbursing costs of AT for over 200 students a year. To make the process easy for schools, an assigned ATR program coordinator acts as a liaison with participating schools, and Missouri AT program staff make suggestions as to what devices may be considered. They also provide device demonstrations and short-term loans, and help guide schools towards resources for educational and technical supports. Applications for ATR open at the beginning of the school year, which involves filling out a simple application about the need for AT, demographics, and a description of the student’s disability. Due to the high volume of applications, districts are carefully chosen among the applicants to receive reimbursement funds. The State Department of Education makes $500,000 available each year for the program, and Missouri AT tries each year to evenly distribute these funds among small, medium, and large school districts geographically spread around the state. The result of this is a positive impact on students’ education goals, and financial burdens are alleviated not only for school districts, but for families with children with disabilities in K-12 schools. In the 2019-2020 school year, Missouri AT supported 245 students from 82 districts, which is typical for any given year.
Missouri AT’s ATR program has been carefully fine-tuned since its conception two decades ago. For other states to successfully maintain a similar program, Missouri AT suggests to start by building a relationship with the State Department of Education, and to identify AT champions within their school district. School districts that use AT efficiently can become effective and powerful advocates for your program. They also suggest to assign staff with AT expertise to help guide schools in the process, and to dovetail existing programs you might have to support establishing a reimbursement program. For example, if your device loan program serves school districts, you can more easily convince the Department of Education that a reimbursement program is the next step to help students with AT needs. However, Missouri AT notes that not every school district is the same and you may have to tweak the concept to fit the district. For example, some school districts cannot accept reimbursements. In such a case, a creative workaround would be to provide long-term loans. All in all, it is very important to maintain contact with relevant entities through emails, mail, liaisons, and your website.