Using Mini-Grants to Fund Assistive Technology
for Students with Severe Disabilities

Assistive technology devices can often be the deciding factor in whether a student with severe disabilities succeeds or fails in their educational programs. It is widely accepted that assistive technology can enhance communication, inclusion in school and community, and vocational opportunities for students with disabilities. Although IDEA specifically identified the school districts responsibility to provide assistive technology to students who need them to benefit from their educational programs, school districts of all sizes often do not have funds available to purchase appropriate devices for all students who need them. In these cases, mini-grants to local civic and business organizations can often help to generate the needed funds.

Mini-grants can be developed to fund augmentative communication devices, positioning equipment such as wheelchairs, standers, special chairs, and computers with adapted access. Although mini-grants should not be viewed as a substitute to IDEA funds, they do present an alternative means to obtain special funds to purchase equipment for certain students. It can be a way for teachers, parents and administrators to team together to obtain the money needed. Resources within the community can be sought and mini-grant proposals can be written and submitted to businesses and civic groups such as Lions clubs, the Junior League, Rotary International, and Kiwanis International.

Mini-grants submitted to community organizations should include: Identifying information about the student, an explanation of the specific need for the equipment, the benefits to the community, and the benefits to the organization. Once the parents have given consent for the mini-grant proposal to be submitted, team members can work together to write a proposal. Before submitting the proposal, some information should be gathered on the organization and who the appropriate contacts in the organization are. Some organizations have specific forms that can be completed; others will accept proposals written in a letter format that address the areas listed above.

This article was adapted from:
Parette, Jr., H.P., Murdick, N.L., & Gartin, B.C. (1996). Mini-grant to the rescue. Teaching Exceptional Children, 28, 20-23. with permission from the publications office of
The Council for Exceptional Children.

The following list provides some example of alternate funding sources and is published by Augmentative Communication Consultants, Inc.


A quick reference list has been comprised of funding sources used by professionals across the state to purchase equipment and services.

I. Public Agencies
A. ALS Foundation
B. Christina Foundation
C. Medicaid/Medicare
D. Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR)
E. Mental Health / Mental Retardation (MH/MR)
F. United Cerebral Palsy Association
G. Association of Retarded Citizens (ARC)

II. Private Agencies, Foundations, and Commercial Insurance
A. Travelers
B. Metropolitan Life
C. Prudential Insurance
D. Equitable Life
E. Mutual of Omaha
F. State Farm
G. Blue Cross/Blue Shield
H. Aetna
I. Champus

III. Service Organizations
A. Business and Professional Women's Associations
B. Exchange Club
C. Kiwanis
D. Elks
E. Lions
F. JayCees
G. Church Groups
H. "A Dream Come True"
I. "Make-A-Wish"
J. Masons/Shriners
K. Churches
L. Knights of Columbus
M. Quota Club

IV. Contributions
A. Private Individuals
B. Businesses
C. Sports Organizations
D. Athletes

V. The Many Faces of Funding: Monthly newsletter ($15 yearly) continues to be an excellent source of current information, examples and encouraging news. The newsletter is available from Phonic Ear, Inc., 250 Cumino Alto, Mill Valley, CA 94941.

The Funding Request

Funding requests should contain the following information:

  • Cover letter
  • Appropriate Agency Forms
  • Physician prescription for communication prosthesis
  • Pertinent literature describing device (when appropriate)
  • Therapy evaluation and diagnostic reports

Specific Information to be included in the cover letter:

  • Current patient/client status
    • identifying information
    • statement and description of nature of disability
    • statement regarding communication abilities
    • communicative dissonance
    • cognitive abilities
    • prognostic statement regarding ability to successfully communicate without device

Changes in life functioning following receipt of device:

  • How device will allow individual to maximize potential
  • How device will permit control over one's environment
  • How device will allow increased independence, self- sufficiency, and ability to make choices in daily living care

Description of Device

  • model number and company (with address)
  • brief description
  • needed accessories
  • cost

Useful Terminology For Funding Requests


  • medically necessary
  • reasonable and necessary
  • durable medical equipment
  • prosthetic device


  • achieving and maintaining self-support to prevent, reduce or eliminate dependency
  • self-sufficiency
  • preserving, rehabilitating, or reuniting families
  • health-related
  • prosthetic appliance
  • physician-prescribed equipment part of client's medical treatment plan
  • restoration of the patient to his best functional level

Crippled Children's Services

  • frequently pay cost of whatever health care is indicated

Vocational Rehabilitation Services

  • services, training, and equipment used to enhance the employability of handicapped individuals
  • vocational potential
  • independent living status
  • eligibility for vocational rehabilitation based on:
    1. presence of physical or mental disability which results in substantial handicap to employment.
    2. reasonable expectations that vocational rehabilitation services may benefit an individual's employability or independent living status.


  1. Physician's prescription for a prosthetic device
  2. Introduction
    • A statement of purpose (i.e., purchase of a speech prosthesis)
    • Review of the individual's medical diagnosis and history
    • Outline of expected benefits from use of a specified speech prosthesis
  3. Medical diagnosis
    • General discussion of the individual's disease, with citations from medical journal articles indluded
  4. Functional Abilities
    • Assessment of the individual's functional skills
    • Assessments by qualified personnel in the areas of speech, language, cognition, psycho/social functioning, vision, hearing, and motor ability
  5. Evaluation
    • This section systematically develops the case for the individual's need of an electronic speech prosthesis
    • Analysis focused on speed of communication using present system
    • Comparison between various electronic speech prosthesis including: speed, accuracy, price and output modes
  6. Conclusion
    • How the individual will benefit medically by being able to communicate with physicians, etc.
  7. Supporting documentation
    • When possible supporting letters from the individual's physical therapist, occupational therapist, optometrist, social worker or teacher
  8. Include a brochure or picture describing the speech prosthetic device chosen for the individual
  9. A claims form filled out and signed by the policy holder

Within four to six weeks a preauthorization letter will be sent to either the family or the physician. Depending on the insurance company 80% to 100% of the cost will be paid. The time of the year is important to receive 100% payment. By mid-year most handicapped children have already surpassed their deductibles.

Contact the company you wish to purchase the device from and inform them that you have a preauthorization.

They will work out a way for direct payment to them or shipping and billing before a check is sent.

If you receive a denial, read the wording carefully and respond directly to the reason for the denial. Often the reason for the denial is inaccurate. If denied a second time, request an appeal.

By Helen Gray, Richmond UCP


Private Insurance

  • health insurance
  • worker's compensation
  • disability insurance
  • self-insured employer benefits


  • clinical services
  • intermediate care facilities for individuals with mental retardation and other developmental disabilities
  • Early periodic screening, diagnosis and treatment programs


Social Security Benefits

  • Social Security Disability Insurance
  • Supplemental Security Income
  • Plans to Achieve Self Sufficiency

Developmental Disability Programs
Head Start Program
Vocational Rehabilitation
Independent Living Program
Supported Employment

Special Education Programs

  • Early Intervention Program under (P.L. 99-457)
  • Education of the Handicapped Act (P.L. 94-142)
  • Statewide Supplemental Programs, Chapter I (89-313)

Veterans Administration

Loan Programs

  • state bond issues
  • corporate-sponsored loans
  • revolving loan funds
  • private foundations
  • charitable organizations
  • service clubs
  • public/private partnerships
  • special appropriations from state legislature
Reprinted with permission from:

Augmentative Communication Consultants, INC.
Airport Corporate Center
Suite 304
894 Beaver Grade Road
Coraopolis, PA 15108
Phone: (412) 264-6121 Fax: (412) 264-1443