Are you a parent wondering how to fund essential equipment for your child with a disability? You’ll be happy to know step-by-step help is on the way! Tamara Simmons, a disability funding specialist, has written The Funding Guide for Children with Disabilities, scheduled for release August 2014. But you don’t have to wait that long. We’re honored to provide the first “sneak peek” at a much-needed funding guide in our exclusive interview with the author. You might even find out how to get an advance copy! While the guide focuses on children, similar funding options are available for adults with disabilities, too, and the process is the same, so there’s truly help for all.
Q. How did you acquire your in-depth knowledge of disability funding?
A. I actually learned about disability funding by accident because of my nephew, Jacob, and my brother Hal. Jacob is one of triplets born very premature and weighing only 2 pounds. He has cerebral palsy and limited mobility.
Our local Lions Club had brought a highly respected hyperbaric company here from Florida for a specific period of time. Jacob was to begin three rounds of hyperbaric treatments, and his insurance unexpectedly denied paying for the treatments. My brother was really upset about it since they had been planning on this opportunity to improve Jacob’s quality of living.
I said to Hal, “Why don’t you ask for help?” He refused, saying, “I am not asking anyone for help.” I decided to take the initiative and find help for them. So I set out to find over $12,000 in funding for Jacob’s hyperbaric treatments.
I did not have a clue where I would get help, but I sat down at the computer and started to research funding for children with disabilities. This is when I discovered there was so much money out there that could help Jacob, and I was able to find the funding without asking for money from anyone in our family.
Q. What funding options exist for people with disabilities who need assistive equipment?
A. There are quite a few funding options available for assistive technology items or services; some of those include: foundations that fund for individuals, fraternal orders, religious organizations, social service organizations, individuals, disability-specific organizations and more. There are other creative funding alternatives that have been quite successful as well.
Q. Why do some people who need assistive technology reject disability funding as an option?
A. I find that there are a few reasons for this. I think the biggest reason is that people don’t know that free money is available to them for their child. Of those who do know about the funding opportunities available, most don’t believe they will be able to get it. Many of the families believe that it is too much work to get the money; others don’t think they will qualify. I have also had many parents who are not comfortable asking for help; people don’t like to talk about money, especially when they need help with it.
Q. Are there any disability funding “myths” you can dispel to encourage families and individuals, skeptical about their chances, to make the effort?
A. There are many myths about disability funding that make families and individuals skeptical. A few examples are:
I don’t know how it works – The Funding Guide for Children with Disabilities explains exactly how it works.
I don’t believe it – I have seen funding work extremely well for hundreds, if not thousands of families.
I don’t qualify – There are very few families who do NOT qualify for disability funding.
It is too much work – The Funding Guide simplifies the process by teaching you step-by-step what you need to do. I make it easy for you to use so it is not too much work.
I don’t have the time – I often remind my parents, how long would it take you to make $5,000. Since The Funding Guide simplifies the process, it saves families time. It even includes 200 free funding sources, templates for letters, and checklists to use.
I can’t ask for help – There is money out there, waiting to be used for families and individuals with disabilities. Not asking for help is the same as turning down free money.
I have to pay it back – You do NOT have to pay back money you receive for disability funding.
Q. Are the funding suggestions in your guide, which is targeted toward parents of children with disabilities, applicable to anyone with a disability who needs assistive equipment?
A. The majority of funding sources in my book are geared towards children. There are funding sources in the book that adults can qualify for, just not as many as there are for children.
The Funding Guide for Children with Disabilities teaches families how to get the money. It teaches them the step-by-step process that I have used successfully for over a decade. In addition to teaching parents how to get the funding, I also have a chapter that teaches them how to find their own funding sources. The 200 funding sources in the book are just a bonus. The real purpose of the book is to teach the parents how this is done and that they can do it on their own.
I will be doing a series of funding guides that will focus on specific disability populations, including children and adults.
Q. How does “urgency” factor into the search for disability funding?
A. Many of the organizations that provide funding for children with disabilities truly understand what these families are going through. Funders that I know personally have helped those in need because it was an urgent situation. But, for the most part, they have scheduled meetings where decisions are made as to who will receive funding. The good part of this is that most of these organizations meet on a monthly basis and others even weekly. There are many other creative funding ways that we can raise money fast for urgent needs.
Q. Since our company is a wheelchair van dealership, let’s do a hypothetical search to raise the money to buy a handicap van for a family with a child in a wheelchair. What are the first three steps in their quest?
A. The very first step is to choose the most appropriate assistive technology needed.
TIP – Because assistive technology can be quite expensive, be sure to research to make sure you are choosing the most appropriate equipment needed. For example, if you’re buying a van, you need to be sure the vehicle is properly equipped. You might want to work with your child’s therapist or doctor to determine the features you’ll need.
Next, get at least one written price quote for that specific technology.
TIP – Funders often require that you have more than one price quote. To save you time in the funding process, always stay a step ahead by getting more than one. Sometimes that is not possible because some disability products are more limited as to where you can purchase them. If that is the case, make sure you state that in that section of the application.
The third step is to get a photo of your child with the assistive technology.
TIP – for example: if it is an adaptive bike, take a photo of your child on the bike. If it is not possible, at least have a picture of the assistive technology needed
Q. Realistically, what should a family on this journey expect in terms of time and results?
A. It all depends on the family and how much effort they put in. I have had families raise the funding in two days; others have taken months. Each situation is going to be different depending on the family, which funding sources they apply to and how they try to get the funding. But most of the families I work with get the money they need within 1-2 months.
The more funding sources they apply to, the quicker they will raise the money. It really is about how much time they put into it.
Q. With regard to grant applications, do chances for funding improve if the family uses a professional grant writer?
A. I have been a professional grant writer for over 12 years for nonprofit organizations. My experience writing grants significantly helped me in writing The Funding Guide because I learned the most important things needed when applying for funding as an individual and as an organization. Many of the things you should do when applying to a foundation as a nonprofit are the same things that are important for someone applying as an individual.
As a grant writer I have made sure that the most important things I have learned about applying for funding are in The Funding Guide for Children with Disabilities, and it is a huge part of what I am teaching you. One of the most important things I have learned over the years in applying for funding is the need to tell your unique story. I have written grants that I have found to be very boring with graphs, charts, and statistics that even I don’t want to read. Then I have written grants with pictures of kids and the story behind those pictures. Those are the grants that have raised money; the stories are what gets the money. All you have to do is tell their story. You don’t necessarily need someone to write it for you.
Q. How should a family choose organizations who will best support their grant-funding chances?
A. Parents need to find a funding source that is an ideal match for their child and the assistive technology they seek. I have a scoring system in my book that helps parents decide if a funder is a perfect match. But the most important thing they need to look at before anything else is geographic location. If the organization doesn’t fund where you live, don’t even consider them as a source of funding. I have a scoring system in my book that helps parents decide if a funder is a perfect match. I also have a chapter in my book that teaches the parents how to seek out their own funding sources as well.
Q. What can parents do to set their funding applications apart from the thousands of other applications that foundations, organizations, and charities receive every day?
A. I tell my families all the time, tell your story. To get your application at the top of the pile, you need to tell your unique story. I tell them not to leave anything out; you need to pull at their heartstrings and let them in, let them see who your child is and why he/she NEEDS this. Let them see your family situation as well. Then you have to show them HOW this assistive technology will help your child; you have to clearly show them every benefit to your child and the impact it will have on their well-being.
Q. We’ve just touched on a few disability-funding topics in this interview. What other helpful features will readers find in your guide?
A. Besides giving them a simple step-by-step, easy to understand process, I also give them a book that is user-friendly. Each funding source has all of the important information listed on one single page, and on that same page is a checklist of all the steps for the applicant to work through. At the bottom of the page is a section for notes. They never have to leave that page.
The most important thing I want to accomplish for families is to make the guide as easy to use as possible. The other resources I included in The Funding Guide are samples, worksheets, and checklists. Having those documents available to families makes their part of the process so much easier.
Q. How will the guide be distributed?
A. My goal is to get The Funding Guide for Children with Disabilities in the hands of the families that need it most as quickly as possible. My partnership with Advocate Children’s Hospitals in Illinois will help thousands of families get The Funding Guide at no cost to them. Advocate Children’s has agreed to partner with me and distribute The Funding Guide free to 10,000 of their families to start. If this is successful they will continue to distribute my book to many more families. I am continuing to form partnerships with other disability organizations to have them give my book to more families in need of funding assistance.
The Funding Guide for Children with Disabilities can also be purchased online at Your Disability Funding Specialist. Currently my book is available as a pre-order prior to the release date in August 2014.
Q. Why did you decide to write the guide?
A. There are a few reasons why I decided to write The Funding Guide, but the biggest reason is to help the families of children with disabilities. When my nephew, Jacob, was born with cerebral palsy, I saw my brother struggle to help Jacob get everything he needed. Jacob’s story inspired me to help other parents find funding for their children with disabilities.
One mother, Mary Anne Schwingle, came to me trying to find funding for an adaptive bike for her son Ethan. After helping her find funding for two adaptive bicycles, an elevator for their home, and several other types of assistive technology, Mary Anne wrote an inspiring letter thanking me for my help. Her heartfelt letter let me know that the funding I helped her raise for Ethan truly changed their lives forever, and I decided then and there that I needed to write a book to teach as many parents, caregivers and family members how to find funding for their child’s needs.
Q. Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter.com and GoFundMe.com are gaining in popularity. Do you have any suggestions for someone using one of these sites to raise money for assistive technology?
A. I have a chapter in my book that teaches you how to crowdfund and be successful at it. When I first heard about crowdfunding, I just sat there saying to myself, wow, this is AMAZING! I learned as much as I could about it, and then set out to do my first campaign.
The first campaign I did was for my family’s nonprofit organization. Our goal was to raise $39,000. The total raised was over $25,000. I learned a lot running this campaign—the most important thing was that I should have started it sooner. It was called “The Holiday Campaign for Mobility.” I started it the day after Thanksgiving and, by the end of January, it had come to an end. Next year I will start it one month earlier, because most spending really takes a break after the holidays.
The next crowdfunding campaign I started is still ongoing. This campaign will get teens with autism their own adaptive bikes, and we are currently getting a bike for the fifth teen, thanks to the the campaign. So far we have raised over $10,000. Not bad for six weeks!
My first recommendation for any type of funding is to crowdfund. It is the fastest and easiest way to raise free money. I had a mom call me up this winter and order her child’s bike. I asked her as I do all of my families, how did you raise the money. She said, “You told me to crowndfund, so I did.” She raised over $4,000 in two days!
Q. What’s the most critical thing you want the readers of your guide to know about the search for disability funding?
A. That it is POSSIBLE, that it is EASY, and that it is absolutely FREE MONEY!
Thank you, Tamara, for the interview and the funding guide! We’re sure a lot of families will benefit from your expertise! Watch the testimonial below to see how Tamara’s funding techniques helped a child with disabilities and his family. If any of our readers has successfully funded disability equipment for a child, please tell us about it in the comment box! Your story can encourage others!