Northwest 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 our 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) we were able to hire our first full-time staff and launch our assistive technology and business equipment loan programs in earnest. We also received early support from the Washington Council of the Blind (our 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.
Our first matched savings (Individual Development Account) pilot project was established in 2008 through 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, we 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. Our role is to connect clients and staff with Asset Building opportunities. Within this context, we 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, we were known as the Washington Assistive Technology Foundation (WATF). As fun as it is to say, “WATF”, by 2010, we had outgrown the name. Not only do we do much more than offer financing for Assistive Technology, after years of engaging with clients whose lives were profoundly impacted by the technologies financed, we understood that our mission is really to provide access — specifically to technology but also to economic opportunity. Now our name tells our story too.
Since opening our doors, we have loaned out over $2M, leased 115Closed Circuit TV Magnifiers and our IDA savers have accessed $157,960 in matched savings grants. Our default rate is 1.8%–testimony to the role of these technologies in the lives of our borrowers.