Washingtonians with hearing loss have a terrific way to try new hearing technologies to discover what works for them. The Washington Assistive Technology Act Program (WATAP) offers demonstrations, equipment loans, training, financial advice, and information about a wide spectrum of assistive technologies. Located at the University of Washington Center for Technology and Disability Studies, WATAP is supported by a grant from DSHS and other fundning sources.
We interviewed Alan Knue, WATAP Director, to get more information on how WATAP helps people with hearing loss.
Q: What equipment do you offer that’s most helpful for people with hearing loss?
A: Through WATAP’s Device Demonstration and Lending Library, we offer a selection of assistive technology that can help with those who have hearing loss or who are deaf. These devices can be experienced during a device demonstration with guidance from one of WATAP’s assistive technology specialists or can be borrowed for up to 3 weeks through our device lending program. Both of these programs allow individuals to try out a device to help them make an informed decision about what may or may not work prior to purchase. Examples of technologies in our inventory related to hearing assistance include personal assistive listening devices, such as the Pocket Talker; FM systems; amplification equipment, including amplified phones and personal TV amplification devices; dual communication aids; and visual and vibrating alerting and signaling devices.
Q: Can you tell us more about the financial help that you can offer folks who need hearing loss technology?
A: As mentioned above, our device demonstration and device lending programs are designed to assist in informed decision-making, enabling people to make confident choices about their assistive technology needs, ensuring a good match and reducing abandonment because a device was not a good match.
We also provide some alternative means to help individuals obtain AT through our device reuse partners and with help from our state financing programs.
One of our community device reuse providers, the Seattle Hearing, Speech, and Deaf Center (HSDC), offers a unique hearing aid reuse program. This program provides a set of refurbished hearing aids, which includes fitting, orientation, and follow-up, to low-income individuals. HSDC also offers assistive listening equipment for long-term loan. This program is especially designed to offer equipment for those who have changing hearing loss, allowing individuals to use the equipment for as long as is needed. The equipment is then returned to HSDC, sanitized, refurbished if needed, and then sent back out into the community to be used by another person.
Through a partnership with the Perkins School for the Blind, WATAP operates iCanConnect WA, Washington’s National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program. This program, funded by the Federal Communication Commission, provides telecommunications equipment and associated support and training to eligible low-income applicants who have significant combined vision and hearing loss. Examples of equipment provided include Windows or Mac desktops and laptops, screen magnification and screen reading software, cell phone and tablets, amplified phones, refreshable braille displays and notetakers, and audible, visual, vibrating signalers to alert user
Finally, we also partner with the Northwest Access Fund, who provides affordable financing for the purchase of AT devices and services. This program is available to qualified applicants who are residents of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, of all ages with disabilities of all types, including seniors with age-related functional limitations. Financing up to $25,000 with up to a 5-year term is available for assistive technology loans, with a loan interest rate of 5% APR. This program is of particular benefit to help individuals afford more costly assistive technology, such as hearing aids, especially when the devices are not paid for or covered by health insurance or other means.
Q: How can people get started with WATAP? What should be their first step?
A: The best way to connect with WATAP is to call us at 800-214-8731 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Both are monitored daily and this is the best way to have questions answered and to request an appointment for a demonstration. Our website (https://watap.org) has information about our services and specially this is the best place to browse our inventory and request devices through our device lending program (https://watap.org/loan).
All devices provided through our device lending program is shipped via UPS and we provide a return label so that the device can be easily returned back to us.
Q: Can you tell us an uplifting story about what it’s like to do the work that you all do? What do you love about it?
A: Recently, one of WATAP’s assistive technology specialists visited the Sno-Valley Senior Center in Carnation to give a presentation on assistive technology that may benefit individuals who have hearing and/ or vision loss. At the beginning of the presentation, some examples of assistive technology were available on a table for the attendees to see and have a demonstration of. One individual tried out a Pocket talker and fell in love with the device. She could not believe how much better she was hearing and how easy the device was to use. She ended up using the device during the presentation and was active in the discussions during and after the event. She said she was going to order the device as soon as she got home.
We love being able to open eyes by providing examples of assistive technology that are both representative and informative through our programs. We hope we will inspire individuals to explore and find solutions, as we know the difference assistive technology makes in the lives of the many individuals we serve. The impact is not only to the individuals themselves, but also to their immediate families, their circle of friends, and the community at large.