Deciding what you need
If you think you’d benefit from some aids or equipment, start by asking your local council’s social services department for a free care needs assessment involving an occupational therapist (OT) or an assessor who has been trained to assess someone with your specific condition. If you’re living with both sight and hearing loss, you’re entitled to a specialist assessment from your council involving an expert in deafblindness.
Your assessor will look at what tasks and activities you can still do, assess what you’re having difficulties with and consider what support you may qualify for. They may suggest solutions such as aids, adaptations or care.
If you have sight loss, you can also ask your local council if they offer a vision rehabilitation service. This is training and advice to help people adapt to sight loss, live independently and develop or regain skills.
Action on Hearing Loss also run equipment assessment services in some areas.
Before buying any equipment, it’s a good idea to get impartial advice. You may be able to try equipment before you buy, through loan libraries and disability resource centres, so you can find out whether it will work for you in practice. Ask your local council what’s available in your area.
The Disabled Living Foundation has a list of equipment demonstration centres and also has product reviews on its website livingmadeeasy.org.uk. You can also contact local and national sight and hearing loss organisations, such as the RNIB, Action on Hearing Loss and Sense for information and advice.
Don’t be rushed into buying something you may not need. Some things to consider include:
- Is the equipment easy to set up and use?
- How often will you use it?
- Will it still be useful if your condition gets worse?
- Would a multifunction device be better than separate devices?
- What after-sales support is included?
Help with costs
If your council assesses you as needing a particular aid or piece of equipment, they must provide this for free. The council may have preferred suppliers but you can ask for direct payments to buy the equipment yourself if you prefer. When the council pays for a piece of equipment, they should clarify with you who owns it and who is responsible for maintenance and repairs.
If you’re paying for your own equipment, you don’t have to pay VAT on some assistive technology and disability equipment if it is specifically intended to help someone who is disabled. Installation, repairs and accessories are also VAT-free. For more information, go to gov.uk.
You could ask about paying in instalments but check the terms as this could be more expensive in the long run. You could also consider buying second-hand equipment and you may be able to get discounts on old demonstration equipment.
Low vision clinics and hospital eye departments may offer small aids, such as magnifiers, on a long-term loan basis. British Wireless for the Blind provide specially adapted radios, CD radio cassette recorders and an internet audio player on free loan to people who meet their criteria.
Your local fire brigade may provide equipment related to safety and accident prevention, such as smoke alarms.
You can find some free accessibility software, such as screen readers or magnifiers, online. This might not have all the features of commercial software but could be enough for your needs.
Some charities offer grants for disability equipment if you’re on a low income.