As a college student studying assistive technology and that has low vision, I have seen many cool and life-changing products online and at conferences that could have a significant impact on the lives of people with visual impairments. Often times, one of the major barriers to getting this technology is the price or a lack of funding from different agencies or insurance companies. I was thrilled to discover that there is currently a bill in the US House of Representatives and the US Senate that could help even more people with accessing and purchasing assistive technology. Here is my summary of HR 2086/S.815, also known as the Access Technology Affordability Act of 2019.
Who is involved in this?
The Access Technology Affordability Act of 2019 is sponsored by Representative Mike Thompson, a Democratic congressman from California’s 5th district.
There are currently 30 co-sponsors for the bill from the following states:
- New Jersey
- New York
The Access Technology Affordability Act of 2019 is sponsored by Senator John Boozman, a Republican senator from Arkansas.
There are currently 14 co-sponsors for the bill from the following states:
- North Carolina
- New Hampshire
- New Mexico
- West Virginia
What is the Access Technology Affordability Act of 2019?
The Access Technology Affordability Act of 2019 is listed as “a bill to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to allow a refundable tax credit against income tax for the purchase of qualified access technology for the blind.” In plain language, it is a tax credit for people who purchase assistive technology that is not otherwise compensated by insurance, and that are a legally blind taxpayer, the taxpayer’s spouse, or any dependent of the taxpayer. Qualified individuals can claim up to $2000 in assistive technology related expenses in any 3 year consecutive taxable period.
When was it introduced?
HR 2086 was introduced April 4, 2019 by Representative Thompson. It is considered an identical bill to S.815 since they are written exactly the same, though this will change as the bill progresses.
S.815 was introduced March 14, 2019 by Senator Boozman. It is considered an identical bill to HR 2086.
Where is it now?
As of publishing time, HR 2086 is in the House Ways and Means committee and no further progress has been made since it was introduced.
As of publishing time, S.815 is in the Senate Finance committee and no further progress has been made since it was introduced.
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Why was it created?
The Access Technology Affordability Act of 2019 was created to provide a refundable tax credit for “qualified access technology” (also known as assistive technology) that is not otherwise covered by grants or insurance. Assistive technology is often expensive, so having this tax credit would help to defray the costs associated with the purchase. Once it’s passed, the Access Technology Affordability Act of 2019 will be added as an amendment to the Internal Revenue Code of 1986.
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Who benefits from the Access Technology Affordability Act of 2019?
This bill allows a refundable tax credit equal to the amounts paid for qualified access technology for use by a legally blind individual who is the taxpayer, the taxpayer’s spouse, or a dependent of the taxpayer.
What qualifies as access technology?
The bill defines “Qualified access technology” as “hardware, software, or other information technology with the primary function of converting or adapting information that is visually represented into forms or formats useable by blind individuals.”
Some examples of items that would qualify as access technology include:
- Braille displays
- Screen readers
- Visual assistants such as smart glasses
- Audio labelling devices
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When can I use this credit?
According to the bill text, the access technology credit is “limited to costs that are not compensated by insurance or otherwise, and an aggregate amount of $2,000 per blind individual in any period of three consecutive taxable years.” So if I purchased $1500 of assistive technology, I would be able to get $1500 towards my refund.
Where would this help the most?
The Access Technology Affordability Act will have a tremendous benefit for people who want to update their current assistive technology or who may need some financial assistance with purchasing technology. My family is particularly excited about this bill because that means we would be able to get reimbursement for assistive technology devices and software I have purchased to support me in my college studies that is not covered by any other funding source.
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Why should I call my representatives?/Final Thoughts
Often times, bills like this go under the radar and many people do not know about how much that they can help people with disabilities, especially if your state currently does not have any co-sponsors. By calling your representatives, you are showing them that you consider access to assistive technology a priority, and showing how beneficial this bill can be for people with visual impairments. I called my representatives today, and I challenge each of my readers in the US to do the same as well, so that assistive technology can become more affordable for people with visual impairments.