The Washington Access Fund was incorporated in 1999 and received its nonprofit 501(c) (3) status from the IRS in 2001. It was certified by the Treasury as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) in 2002 — the first in the country to be run by and for people with disabilities. The bulk of the initial funding came in 2004 from the U.S. Department of Education via its Alternative Financing (AFP) and Access to Telework Programs. With these grants, together with match contributed by individual and Foundation donors (including the Paul G. Allen Family and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations) they were able to hire the first full-time staff and launch the assistive technology and business equipment loan programs in earnest. They also received early support from the Washington Council of the Blind (the first grant of $25,000 in 2001!) and the Washington Department of Services for the Blind which, in 2003, provided funding to create the Closed Circuit TV Magnifier (CCTV) rental program.
The first matched savings (Individual Development Account) pilot project was established in 2008through a collaboration with United Way of King County (using state SEED Act dollars) and expanded in 2010 thanks to a generous grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. In 2013, they added a new co-venture with the Governor’s Committee on Disability Issues and Employment. Funded by a U.S. Department of Labor grant, the Disability Employment Initiative has the goal of improving outcomes for job seekers with disabilities who seek help from Work Source Centers in King and Snohomish Counties. The role is to connect clients and staff with Asset Building opportunities. Within this context, they also are able to offer a time limited, fast track “Work Opportunities” IDA through which participants can save for devices and services needed to overcome barriers to employment.
For the first 8 years, they were known as the Washington Assistive Technology Foundation (WATF). As fun as it is to say, “WATF”, by 2010, they had outgrown the name. Not only do they do much more than offer financing for Assistive Technology, after years of engaging with clients whose lives were profoundly impacted by the technologies financed, they understood that the mission is really to provide access — specifically to technology but also to economic opportunity. Now the name tells the story too.
Since opening the doors, they have loaned out over $2M, leased 115Closed Circuit TV Magnifiers and the IDA savers have accessed $157,960 in matched savings grants. The default rate is 1.8%–testimony to the role of these technologies in the lives of the borrowers.
Where is Northwest Access Fund