University of Kansas Office of University Relations, March 24, 2003
Assistive technology such as motorized scooters or communication devices can be expensive, and the Kansans who need them may have high medical bills, live on fixed incomes or be unable to get conventional bank loans to purchase these unconventional items. Neither Medicare nor Medicaid pays for major equipment purchases such as modified vehicles or computers that would allow Kansans with disabilities to live and work independently or simply communicate or move about. But a consumer-controlled loan cooperative developed by University of Kansas disabilities researchers has changed that for at least 70 Kansans for the past two years.
The Kansas Assistive Technology Cooperative (KATCO) is a federal-state-private partnership that was the brainchild of KU associate scientist Sara Sack and senior scientist Charles Spellman. Sack and Spellman direct the Assistive Technology for Kansans Project (ATK) for KU's Life Span Institute. Sack said that the ATK Project long had wanted to add an alternative financing program to the network of services the group has helped implement in Kansas over the past 10 years, authorized under the Assistive Technology Act of 1998. When the U.S. Department of Education issued grants to develop state alternative financing programs, Sack and people with disabilities from across Kansas developed one of the first programs in the country. "What we heard most often from Kansans with disabilities was the lack of available funding," Sack said. "An individual could get a job if they had a van with a lift for their wheelchair to get to the office, but they couldn't borrow money until they already had the job. It was a Catch-22."
Rick Linnaberry, a Wichita machinist who designs aircraft parts, is one of these people. "More people with disabilities could have productive lives with programs like KATCO," Linnaberry said. Linnaberry is typical of middle-income people who have credit problems after accidents or illness. "I wasn't poor enough to qualify for some kinds of assistance, and not rich enough to afford the assistive technology I needed to go back to work," he said. Linnaberry applied for aKATCOloan to buy a $5,000 standing frame that allows him to work standing up. The frame lets him move around his workshop, strengthens his leg muscles and reduces the incidence of painful pressure ulcers common to people with paralysis. Now Linnaberry works 50 to 60 hours a week at a full-time job and his own home business.
As it enters its third year of existence, KATCO has loaned more than $400,000 to 70 Kansans in 18 counties for vehicle and home modifications, computers and other technology. A majority of KATCO's board of directors and loan review committee are Kansans with disabilities. The State of Kansas provided the original funds to match the U.S. Department of Education federal dollars that fund the program. The Parsons Credit Union, Mid America Credit Union in Wichita and Alliance Bank in Topeka have helped establish the nontraditional assistive technology cooperative. In addition to making KATCOa reality, the ATK coordinates direct assistive technology services at five sites throughout Kansas. The group also has established an assistive technology equipment loan program to "Try Before You Buy" and a durable medical equipment reuse and recycle program. More recently, the ATK Project joined with Kansas State University, Southeast Kansas Independent Living, Kansas Vocational Rehabilitation and others to form the Kansas AgrAbility Project to bring assistive technology and rehabilitation to the more than 350 Kansas farmers and farm workers who are injured in agriculture-related accidents each year.
The ATK Project is part of the Life Span Institute at Parsons, one of the 13 centers and more than 140 projects of the Schiefelbusch Institute for Life Span Studies at KU.
KATCO Loan Recipient Contacts
Martin Greathouse, Garden City, (620) 924-1313
Connie Werner, Great Bend, (620) 792-2893
David Wilson, Hutchinson, (620) 662-6020
Clarise Cooper, Independence, (620) 331-4950
Erma Meadows, Iola, (620) 365-2262
Margaret Elliot, Scranton (Topeka), (785) 793-2108
Rosemary Hanna, Tecumseh, (785) 235-2892
Rick Linnaberry, Wichita, (316) 942-0086
KATCO is directed by E. Basil Kessler and is located at 625 Merchant St., Suite 210, Emporia, KS 66801; (866) 465-2826.