Ways to save $$$ if you have a chronic illness or other disability

Living with a disability, including a chronic illness, presents many physical challenges. And the ever-increasing financial burdens make daily life even more complicated.

Good news: There are discounts available to help people with disabilities bridge the financial gap — discounts that can save hundreds, maybe even thousands, of dollars per year.

Unfortunately, very few of these discounts are publicized. Here’s how to find discounts in your area…

  • Contact local Community Action programs and Area Agencies on Aging. These nonprofit organizations are not specifically designed to help the disabled. Community Action programs primarily assist low-income individuals, while Area Agencies on Aging aid seniors. However, a significant percentage of low-income individuals and seniors are disabled, so the employees and volunteers who work for these organizations often know about savings opportunities for the disabled, too. To help you find the organizations that serve your area, contact…

    The Community Action Partnership, 202-265-7546, www.CommunityActionPartnership.com.

    National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, 202-872-0888, www.n4a.org.

  • Locate nonprofit groups associated with your disability or disease. These associations — and their local chapters — often know where to find discounts on the medical supplies, mobility equipment and support services that those suffering from the condition require. Some of these organizations have negotiated special discounted rates with suppliers, and a few even provide subsidized equipment directly.

    Associations that do a particularly good job with this include…

    American Liver Foundation, 212-668-1000, www.LiverFoundation.org.

    ALS Association, 800-782-4747, www.alsa.org.

    Hemophilia Foundation, 800-424-2634, www.Hemophilia.org.

    Muscular Dystrophy Association, 800-572-1717, www.mdausa.org.

    National Kidney Foundation, 800-622-9010, www.Kidney.org.

    National Multiple Sclerosis Society, 800-344-4867, www.NationalMSSociety.org.

    Example: The Muscular Dystrophy Association’s Equipment Assistance Program can help MD sufferers registered with that organization obtain free secondhand wheelchairs, hospital beds, patient lifts and other equipment if they lack the financial means and insurance to obtain these things on their own.

    If there is no large organization for your disability, contact local chapters of the organizations listed earlier and ask if they can provide guidance on locating discounts for someone with your specific condition.

  • Visit the Web site E-Bility.com to download accessibility software. The software can make personal computers easier for disabled people to use. Some software is free. (On www.E-Bility.com, click “Resources,” then “Links,” then “Software” for a list of programs.)

    Example: Camera Mouse, a free download, lets those with limited use of their hands control the mouse pointer on their computer screens simply by moving their heads. A Webcam is required (www.CameraMouse.com).

  • Sign up for a pair of federal government discounts for the disabled. The two excellent programs…

    “That all may read” program from the Library of Congress mails audiobooks to people whose vision or physical impairments make it difficult for them to read printed books. The program is free — you even can borrow an audiobook player for free and return the audiobooks that you have borrowed postage-free when you’re done with them. More than 60,000 audiobooks are available (www.loc.gov/nls).

    The National Park System’s Access Pass offers those who are permanently disabled free admission for life to national parks and other federal recreational lands. The pass also provides free admission to up to three accompanying adults. (Admission is always free for children.) Expanded amenities, such as camping and boat launching, are not free but often are discounted by 50% (www.nps.gov/fees_passes.htm).

  • Contact your utility providers. Power companies and communications companies sometimes offer special discounts to customers who have special needs. If the customer service representative you speak with does not know of any such discounts, ask to speak with a manager — disabled customer discounts often are unknown even to the company’s own reps. Examples of discounts…

    Pacific Gas & Electric customers who rely on life-support equipment or whose health conditions make them especially dependent on heating or air-conditioning can purchase power at the lowest available household rate through PG&E’s Medical Baseline Allowance program (800-743-5000, http://pge.com).

    AT&T and Verizon Wireless customers whose disabilities make it difficult for them to use a telephone directory often qualify for free directory-assistance calls. Contact AT&T (800-464-7928 or 800-772-3140 in California, www.att.com and type “Customers with Disabilities” in the search box) or Verizon Wireless (800-922-0204, http://AboutUs.vzw.com/accessibility) for details.

  • Ask your veterinarian if he/she knows of any discounts or financial assistance programs for service animals or pets belonging to the disabled. If he doesn’t, ask regional animal-focused nonprofits the same question. Veterinarian professional associations, animal lovers’ groups and even state governments sometimes discount or subsidize the cost of animal care for disabled pet owners with limited financial means. Examples…

    The Feline Veterinary Emergency Assistance Program provides financial assistance when cats belonging to disabled people require surgery that their owners cannot afford (no phone number available, http://fveap.org).

    The Pet Project offers low-cost pet food, veterinary services and animal care to pets belonging to residents of Broward County, Florida, who suffer from severely disabling conditions or terminal illnesses (954-568-5678, www.PetProjectForPets.org).

    The state of California’s Assistance Dog Special Allowance provides $50 per month to the disabled owners of service animals if certain conditions are met (916-657-2628, www.cdss.ca.gov and type “Assistance Dog Allowance” in the search box).