The Montana Telecommunications Access Program (MTAP) invites you to join them in celebrating 30 years of service to the citizens of Montana on Wednesday, February 19th starting at 1 PM in the Capitol Rotunda in Helena!
MTAP, a program located within the Department of Public Health and Human Services, 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 goal of MTAP is to improve the quality of life for deaf, hard of hearing, speech and mobility impaired residents of Montana by providing them with specialized telecommunications equipment.
The program administers and oversees relay operations for Montana as well as an equipment distribution program. Relay Services are available 24 hours per day, seven days per week, providing a communications link between those who use a communications device and those who use a standard voice telephone.
MTAP believes that providing equipment to those who need it is beneficial not only to them, but to their friends, family and business associates. MTAP attempts to keep up with the latest of technologies and distributes equipment to consumers to best fit their needs. Two equipment specialists are employed by MTAP to travel the state far and wide 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 Montana residents requiring a little extra help. Recipients receive top-notch service from compassionate staff who come right to their front door. This service doesn’t stop after the first visit; MTAP specialists often make several follow-up visits to provide any additional help needed.
MTAP currently has 1,457 active clients in 182 cities across the state. The program has given out a total of 2,544 pieces of equipment over the past five years alone. The most frequently requested piece of equipment is the amplified phone, making calls louder and easier to hear. This simple device has opened up a whole new world for countless many who lost touch with family and friends due to their hearing loss.
“This program has been providing a vital service to Montanans for three decades,” DPHHS Director Sheila Hogan said. “It makes all the difference in the world for individuals with disabilities to be able to answer the phone. It empowers them and gives them back their independence. 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 to the State of Montana.”
MTAP was excited to launch its own Facebook page in December of 2018 and to date has 669 followers and growing! Creating this page has been an effort to reach out to current and potential clients through social media to share information about the program, relevant events and new technologies and to ultimately stay connected. The program’s hope is to continue to serve clients for generations to come through whatever means is available, in a world of evolving technological developments and advancements.
MTAP serves all Montanans ages five years and over with varying disabilities. Phones are offered 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, this is around $31,000, and increases by about $11,000 for each additional individual in the family.
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. Committee Chair and relay user, Ron Bibler, recalls, “Thirty years ago I was unable to order the pizza without enlisting the help of a hearing person who had a telephone. Then came Relay and MTAP with their specialized equipment that enabled me to make a captioned call using my own voice. Today, with an app and my cellphone, I can now order the pizza and even make a 911 call and use my voice to describe my emergency. MTAP and Relay have bridged the communication divides.”
Chairman Bibler expressed, “It cannot be understated to note the importance of MTAP and Relay that 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 independence is taken for granted, but a generation ago was not in existence.”