In 1988, the United States Congress passed the Technology Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act (Tech Act), providing grants to all states to fund projects aimed at changing how assistive technology is delivered to people with disabilities. In 1998, the initial act was built upon, becoming what is known today as the Assistive Technology Act (ATA).
The Massachusetts Assistive Technology Partnership (MATP), which increases access to assistive technology for people of all ages and disabilities, was born from the original Tech Act, and has thrived for the past 15 years. The partnership is manifested in the MATP Center, which is housed at Children's Hospital Boston.
The MATP Center's principal investigator and overseer is Howard Shane, PhD, director of Children's Speech Pathology Services and Communication Enhancement Center. "Children's was already doing so much in terms of prescribing assistive technologies for our patients that it was a natural step for us to be involved in the policy side," says Shane.
The MATP Center maintains a full-time staff of five (one of whom is a guide dog named Raymond who helps Coordinator of Training Pat Hill, who is blind), and two subcontractors who serve the Cape Cod and Springfield, Mass. areas. The center offers all of their publications in Braille, on audio tape, in large type and in multiple languages. They also maintain a $50,000 fund that is available exclusively to Children's patients who need assistive technology devices, but are unable to obtain financial support.
The center has enjoyed many successes over the years, including their work with Bell Atlantic (now Verizon) on the Massachusetts Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS), which enables hearing or speech impaired individuals to communicate over the telephone through wire or radio. "Bell Atlantic hired us, in conjunction with some other consultants, to rewrite their TRS standards," says Marylyn Howe, MATP project director, who is deaf. "Since then, the Federal Communications Commission has mandated that all states adopt our standards."
When they aren't rewriting TRS standards, MATP Center staff offer trainings on working with people who use assistive technology. They're often invited to train teachers and other professionals who work with people of all ages and disabilities. They also work closely with the Massachusetts state legislature, providing support when it comes to assistive technology issues.
"Children's relationship with the MATP Center is really a two-way street," says Shane. "The hospital has tremendous knowledge of assistive technology through its many clinics, and the center has numerous resources available to help us better access it. And now we can work together to help establish better policy within the state as well."