Thursday, August 5, 2010

Reuse and Recycle: Expanding Access to Assistive Technology

Written by Allan Friedman, CFILC's Technologies Manager

In a time of severe budget cuts that imperil the ability of Californians with disabilities to live independently, the reuse and recycling of assistive technology is a moral imperative. Reuse is one of the most effective ways to enable more low income individuals to acquire devices that empower them to participate in their communities and retain their independence.

California is the birthplace of the Independent Living Movement. We’ve always been on the leading edge of public accommodations and integration of people with disabilities in our communities. But we lag behind many other states when it comes to the reuse of assistive devices. Successful reuse programs flourish and thrive in places such as Salt Lake City, Austin and Atlanta. Georgia, Kansas and several other states have shown that AT, which is often customized to meet the unique needs of users, can be successfully refurbished and reused without compromise for the individuals who receive the devices.

So why not here? While there are several programs that refurbish computers and get them to low income users with disabilities, only a handful of organizations in California accept donations of communication devices, durable medical equipment and other AT for reuse. True, there are challenges to running a reuse program, including issues around liability, sanitation and space. But programs in other states have met those challenges, and California can too.

We need to increase the supply of used AT. Not only will more reuse programs increase access to AT for people with disabilities who would otherwise go without, reuse programs can also be an important part of our state's disaster preparations; a resource that can be readily tapped in an emergency to replace devices left behind by people affected by our all too common forest fires, earthquakes and other natural disasters.

It will take action by the whole disability community to take reuse to the next level. We need a coordinated system that encourages reuse, provides a means for consumers to donate devices, as well as support for organizations willing to take on the challenges of turning one person’s trash into another person’s saving grace.

Are you interested in learning more about AT reuse? If you want more information about plans for AT reuse in California, or if you want to be part of the planning process, please let us know in the comments section below.

This article reflects the opinion of the author.


  1. I agree with you whole-heartedly. We adopted a 6 year old who has Cerebral Palsy a couple years ago and had the most difficult time finding AT devices. We borrowed some, and the UCP website was great in helping us locate some donations, such as a wheelchair and stroller. Sure, they were not quite a perfect fit, but they were better than nothing, and it took us a year to get a custom chair from CCS and insurances. So count me in for the reuse/recyle AT in CA.

  2., supported by the government, is devoted to AT. In addition to big product lists it has a consumer section with classified ads and user reviews.

    Many states have commissions serving the disables and you may find them listed on Abledata., in its monthly enewsletter, has a Swap Shop of things for the visually impaired.

    I doubt that a new organization is needed. Google it and report back.


  3. Yes, provides the ability for people around the country to post classifieds on their website. It is a great service.

    However, websites like Abledata do not meet every need. Some people may not have access to the Internet to look for used AT. People with used AT may not know to post it on Abledata, or they may want to donate it to someone in their local community. Then what should they do?

    There is still a lot of used AT out there that can be cleaned, repaired (if needed) and made available to people in local communities around California. We definitely have room to grow one or more programs of that sort here in our state.

  4. Because there is a need on both sides - people who have AT equipment that they no longer need and people who need AT equipment. In the real world, care-providers and families who could use AT do not always have the 'extra time' to search or may be unaware of how to look for free/low cost AT equipment. I think many would benefit from a ReUse and Recylce program if we can include an easy location system.

  5. We have had a reuse program for years at ILSNC. I have been actively trying to get it into a more efficient order. I personally would like to be trained on reuse especially best practices. At the moment our program is like a loan closet but generally we give the items to the consumer and if we have it in our stock it is theirs to have. My biggest challenge is that there is no funding available to fix the items. I have 3 scooters right now that just need batteries and no way to make that happen. I would love to see an expanded AT program here and especially one that was networked all over California and we could jointly work together.