America Recycles: Bottles, Cans, Newspapers … and Wheelchairs?

November 15, 2019
By Rob Groenendaal, ACL Assistive Technology Program Manager, and Shantol Coleman, ACL Program Analyst

Today is America Recycles Day. Recycling assistive technology is one way to help make community living possible for more people.

Assistive technology (AT) and durable medical equipment (DME) encompass a broad range of devices including home hospital beds, hearing aids, communication devices, wheelchair ramps or lifts, and software. These devices play a critical role in helping many older adults and individuals with disabilities achieve educational and career goals, avoid social isolation, and stay out of nursing homes.

Unfortunately, cost and insurance barriers can prevent many people from obtaining devices that could improve their lives.

Photo of Mark outside with his wheelchairMark is one of many who faced this challenge. He is a United States Marine Corps veteran living with back and spinal cord damage. He requires both standard and power wheelchairs to participate fully in his community. However, his insurance repeatedly denied his claims for a power chair, which typically cost thousands of dollars.

This is where recycling comes in. Across the country, Assistive Technology Act programs funded by ACL are reusing, refurbishing, and recycling donated AT and DME devices so that older adults and people with disabilities can get tools and technology that would otherwise be out of reach.

When Mark started looking for resources, he found Project MEND, a San Antonio-based program that partners with the Texas AT Act program. Project MEND is one of a growing number of initiatives to collect, sanitize, repair, refurbish, test, and distribute donated AT and DME devices. With support from the Texas Veterans Commission, Project MEND has developed a particular focus on helping veterans like Mark obtain AT and DME.

Project MEND provided Mark with a professionally refurbished power chair modified to fit his specifications. The power chair has made it possible for Mark to be more active in his community and attend church again.

“It’s made a huge impact in my quality of life," Mark says. "I’m very blessed.”

Programs like Project MEND rely primarily on donations. If you are interested in donating or receiving a used AT or DME device, check out the directory of AT reuse programs developed by the Pass It On Center.

AT and DME reuse programs not only promote independence and inclusion for older adults and people with disabilities, they can also save money for taxpayer-funded state and federal healthcare programs.

For example, the Kansas and Oklahoma AT Programs have formed partnerships with their State Medicaid Agencies to refurbish and reassign devices. Through these partnerships, both privately donated and Medicaid-purchased devices that are no longer being used can be sanitized, refurbished, and provided to other eligible state residents free of charge. In Kansas, this partnership has brought in over 12,000 DME donations worth over $13.6 million dollars since 2002. An analysis of data from 2017 and 2018 found that each dollar spent on the program allowed Kansans to receive $2.86 worth of DME. In Oklahoma, the partnership has refurbished and reassigned devices for over 8,700 Oklahomans since 2012. The partnership has saved $4.25 million, including over $1.3 million for SoonerCare, the state’s Medicaid program.

AT reuse is just one of the four key state-level activities provided by ACL's AT Act Program network. These programs can also help you find the right device or technology for your needs and can help you finance device purchases. And, they hit the first of the famous "three Rs" (reduce, reuse, and recycle), with device loans that help prevent unnecessary purchases and allow you to "try before you buy."

Find your AT Act program here.


Susan Prokop - Sat, 11/16/2019 - 14:16

Why didn't ACL get him in touch with the VA?

Hi Susan,

Project MEND is funded through the Texas Veterans Commission to provide services to veterans living in Texas. This organization is not the VA and Project MEND does not have an agreement or contract with the VA.

Not all veterans are eligible for services through the VA, especially if they don’t have any type of service connected disability or have a particular type of discharge status. Project MEND strives to the fill the gaps in services by meeting an individual’s need as it arises. For example, a veteran may be approved for a hospital bed through the VA but it might be 4 weeks before it is received. Project MEND would step in and fill the need in the interim. The VA does refer veterans to Project MEND that they may not be able to serve. Project MEND always encourages veterans who are eligible for VA services to go that route first.

Last modified on 03/10/2021

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