Governor Bullock and Montana Telecommunications Access Program Celebrate 30 Years of Services
Governor Steve Bullock and Montana Telecommunications Access Program (MTAP) advocates today celebrated the program’s 30th anniversary.
“Over the past three decades, MTAP has been providing quality services for thousands of clients,” Governor Bullock said. “Equal access to communications is such an important part of life, and this program eliminates barriers to help provide a better quality of life on a daily basis for so many Montanans.”
The goal of MTAP is to improve the quality of life for the deaf, hard of hearing, speech and mobility-impaired residents of Montana by providing them with specialized telecommunications equipment.
MTAP currently has 1,457 active clients in 182 cities across the state. A total of 2,544 pieces of equipment have been given out to those eligible in the past five years. The most frequently requested piece of equipment is the amplified phone, making calls louder and easier to hear.
“It makes all the difference in the world for individuals with disabilities to be able to communicate through the phone,” said DPHHS Director Sheila Hogan. “I’m really proud of all those who have poured their heart and soul into making this program a success, and I look forward to another 30 years of service.”
MTAP provides equipment free of charge to Montanans who qualify under the income guidelines. The limit for free equipment is 250% of the federal poverty level. For a single person, it’s around $31,000, and increases by about $11,000 for each additional individual in the family.
MTAP was established through legislation passed during the 1989 state legislative session, in response to the Americans with Disabilities Act mandate, requiring that governments provide equal access to telecommunications services for those with disabilities.
The program administers and oversees relay operations for Montana as well as an equipment distribution program. Relay services are available 24/7, providing a communications link between those who use a communications device and those who use a standard voice telephone.
MTAP staff work to keep up with the latest technology and assist their clients with finding the correct equipment to meet their needs.
MTAP Committee Chair Ron Bibler said equipment specialists travel the state offering in-service presentations, evaluating individual user needs, installing phone equipment, training new users, and assisting in expanding Montanans’ knowledge of available assistive technologies for residents requiring a little extra help. Recipients receive service from MTAP staff in their homes, including follow-up visits.
“It cannot be understated how important this program is to Montanans,” Bibler said. “It allows connectedness and personal relationships to flourish through telecommunications. Today’s generation of deaf and hard of hearing individuals have no idea of what it was like to depend on hearing persons to make a simple phone call, whether for a doctor’s appointment or to see if a particular business was open. This type of independence is taken for granted.”
For people who don’t qualify for a free phone, MTAP can still help by demonstrating equipment and providing options to help those who want to order equipment on their own.
MTAP is governed by a 13-member board appointed by the Governor. The members are made up of relay users, telephone industry professionals, state agency representatives, a public safety answering point representative, and other business professionals, who meet quarterly to guide the staff in making decisions and determining the direction of the program.