In December the Massachusetts Assistive Technology Loan Program commemorated six years of successfully securing more than $8.6 million in low-interest loans to state residents with disabilities and their families so they can buy equipment and services that help them live, learn, work and play more independently.
The program has made a vast difference in the lives of people like Roger.* Roger was born into adversity. His mother had advanced ovarian cancer while she was pregnant, a condition neither were expected to survive. Roger was born two months premature in 1951, a time when ‘preemies’ were promptly incubated with high concentrations of oxygen. Today, it is well known that this treatment causes permanent blindness in newborns.
Growing up blind in the 50s and 60s, Roger defied the era's expectations, earning a master’s degree in human services and nurturing an abiding passion for audio editing. (His parents owned a movie theater while he was growing up, which Roger says sparked this interest). Roger’s work history is long and varied, from his early work in the movie house, to positions in the social services arena, to owning and operating his own sound studio. It's a history with numerous ups and downs, from taking highly-paid positions in high-tech to experiencing hard times that included losing his business, overcoming an aggressive cancer, and more recently, experiencing sudden and permanent hearing loss.
It was this last challenge that brought Roger to the Massachusetts Assistive Technology Loan Program. Initially, Roger says, he didn’t want to deal with the hearing impairment, but feelings of profound isolation lead him to an audiologist, who helped him get hearing aids covered by MassHealth. These helped him get around, and the cheaper hearing aids meant he could listen to the radio, but his passion for sound engineering remained out of reach.
Roger’s colleague – and a flyer that advertised free high-tech hearing screenings – transformed his outlook. Roger’s colleague was interested in setting up a sound studio, and in employing Roger full-time at the studio. He urged Roger to go to a screening.
It was at the hearing screening that Roger learned about digital hearing aids, which use an advanced technology to enable users to hear frequencies, some which Roger hadn't heard in years.
The problem was affording it.
Roger’s requests for funding were denied by many agencies and the private charities he approached required matching funds. Roger finally found his way to the AT Loan Program, which is operated through the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC), Easter Seals and Sovereign Bank. Although he was turned down initially for the loan, as Roger recalls, "Easter Seals didn't give up on me. Leo (program coordinator at Easter Seals) encouraged me to appeal and he even had ideas about the kind of additional information I should gather that would help."
Today, Roger and his colleague run a fully operational sound studio. They've produced their first album and are beginning to generate revenue. Roger makes regular loan payments for his high-tech hearing aids. The payments, he admits, are tight, as he relies on Social Security Disability Income (SSDI), but for now, Roger stresses, "Winners never quit and quitters never win. The people at Easter Seals really treated me like a human being and I'm not going to let them down, not after the way they went to bat for me.”
MRC’s Assistive Technology Loan Program has proven to be another effective tool for people with disabilities and their families to purchase life-changing assistive technology that is often prohibitively expensive. This technology often makes a critical difference fostering independence, productivity, and a higher quality of life for individuals with disabilities. To learn more about the program I urge you to visit www.massatloan.org.
*Client name changed for this post.
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