Friday, 22 July 2016

More people with disabilities tapping enhanced Assistive Technology Fund

Fivefold jump in Assistive Technology Fund beneficiaries since changes made last year
By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 21 Jul 2016

More than 1,100 people with disabilities have benefited from a fund that helps them to pay less for assistive technology, mobile apps and devices such as hearing aids since criteria to qualify for the subsidies were changed in August last year.

This is more than a fivefold jump from the figure over the one-year period before the changes were made - and has exceeded expectations, The Straits Times has learnt.

When announcing the changes to the Assistive Technology Fund (ATF) in March last year, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam had said that he expected the number of beneficiaries to double from 200 to 400 a year.

The ATF subsidises up to 90 per cent of the cost of the equipment. Three enhancements were made to the funding scheme:

• Previously, the fund could be used to buy assistive technology devices only for use in school or at work. It can now be used to pay for devices for more purposes, including those that help with daily living.

• The monthly household income per capita cap for eligibility was raised from $1,500 to $1,800, to help more families to benefit.

• The lifetime cap for subsidies was doubled to $40,000, as people may need money to replace devices or buy new ones when their needs change as they age.

Mr Tharman had said the Government wanted to encourage and support the use of assistive technology by people with disabilities.

He had said at a charity dinner: "There is scope for (them) to make better use of technology, not just in education and jobs, but also for rehabilitation and daily living. The technologies themselves are advancing, making them better designed for use by people with disabilities."

Ms Toh Hui Ling, 28, a part-timer at a healthcare organisation, tapped the ATF to buy a motorised wheelchair last December. She was diagnosed with acute transverse myelitis - which causes weakness of the legs - in June last year. The wheelchair cost about $2,300, but she paid $400 after subsidies.

"The subsidy has helped reduce the financial burden," she said.

To raise awareness of the positive impact technology can have on people with disabilities, the Infocomm Development Authority is organising E²Connect 2016, an inaugural forum on infocomm and assistive technologies. The two-day event starts today, and is held at the Enabling Village at 20, Lengkok Bahru.

Assistive technology devices are also showcased at Tech Able, a resource centre on such devices. It is at the Enabling Village and open from 9 am to 5.30 pm on weekdays.

SG Enable administers the ATF and co-manages Tech Able with SPD. Both SG Enable and SPD serve people with disabilities.

SG Enable chief executive Ku Geok Boon said assistive technology can also benefit the general public. "Assistive technology, while targeted at helping people with disabilities to live more independently, can be used by people across all ages and abilities too," she said.

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