Thanks to MonTECH Program Coordinator Chris Clasby, MSW and Program Director Kathleen Laurin, Ph.D. for sharing the details on this unique recreational AT program, how it came together, and how it is and will be sustained.
Assistive technology (AT) devices can open the world of recreation to individuals with disabilities and those who are aging. Unfortunately access to recreation and leisure activities is sometimes not considered an important component of disability services and rehabilitation. The Montana Access To Outdoor Recreation (MATOR) project at the University of Montana Rural Institute-MonTECH recognizes that these activities are crucial to quality of life for each of us with or without a disability. Consistent with Montana’s heritage of wildlife-associated recreation, MATOR strives to increase opportunities for individuals with disabilities to pursue wildlife viewing, fishing, hunting, and related activities. The project achieves this goal by providing more than just an equipment loan program; MATOR also provides high quality opportunities to see and try adapted recreational equipment in the natural environment; and it facilitates social supports (when requested) that ensure everyone enjoys their time outdoors.
MATOR began in 2008 with the receipt of a three-year recreational programs grant from the Rehabilitation Services Agency (RSA) of the US Department of Education. Seven new recreational program awards were made that year (based on the FFY2008 competition), ranging from $115,000 to $135,000 for the first year of funding. MATOR is unique for RSA’s recreational programs because it is the only one that focuses on wildlife-associated recreation (wildlife viewing, fishing, and hunting). It is also unique because it is using recreational program funds to purchase AT.
RSA supports recreational programs because research shows that recreation provides benefits that enhance pathways to employment. Individuals with disabilities who participate in recreational activities often experience increased independence, mobility, self-empowerment, and self-efficacy in addition to simple enjoyment. Interpersonal and societal benefits include increased socialization and community involvement and belief in oneself as a social actor. These positive effects work together to increase the chances that an individual will try new things; they are also critical skills in gaining and maintaining employment. MATOR participants have reported qualitative benefits gained from engaging in recreational pursuits and have also reported their participation resulted in increased confidence and was a catalyst for them to try other new activities.
MATOR’s Core Services:
Equipment Demonstration Events
RSA funds MATOR to provide recreational opportunities in integrated settings. However, MATOR has learned the importance of complementing those opportunities with organized demonstration events focused on access for people with disabilities. The events are held throughout northwestern Montana to provide hands-on opportunities for participants to try recreational AT in the natural environment. These events not only demonstrate available equipment, they also raise awareness for what is possible, and how individual participants with disabilities can accomplish it.
· In June, for example, MATOR is participating in Fishing without Barriers—Fishing on Flathead Lake, a morning of awareness and demonstrations culminating in a noon fish fry. An example of an integrated event is two days later, in partnership with Fish, Wildlife, and Parks: Helena Outdoors Fest in celebration of National Get Outdoors Day.
Recreational AT Equipment Loan Program
RSA funding is making possible the purchase of a large inventory of recreational AT equipment for loan. The equipment is available to be checked out for free, online or over the phone, by Montanans for their own private recreational use. Items available include: a variety of optics, adapted fishing and shooting equipment, camping equipment, ground blinds, trekking poles, outdoor wheelchairs, accessible tents, adaptive photography equipment, and a wide variety of adaptive mounting equipment. MATOR is shipping equipment at no charge to borrowers.
To provide assistance as well as learning experiences, MATOR recruits sportsmen and sportswomen who are willing to volunteer time to help individuals with disabilities pursue outdoor recreation and/or participate in MATOR demonstration events or other activities. MATOR works to match participants who request social supports with volunteers. Volunteers are also sought to offer access to private property and/or contribute equipment to the loan library.
RSA is funding MATOR from FFY2009 to FFY2011. MATOR must provide a twenty-five percent funding match in year two of the grant, a fifty percent funding match in year three, and the program must demonstrate it will be self-sustaining beyond the federal funding period. To do so, MATOR relies heavily on in-kind contributions from established partners.
MATOR’s primary partner is MonTECH which includes the Montana Assistive Technology Program (MATP). MATOR receives in-kind benefits from MonTECH which include:
- access to the computer network and database which hosts the MATOR website and online equipment loan checkout program,
- equipment storage,
- workspace and office equipment.
Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Parks
Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks manages the state’s wildlife services and state parks divisions and has been a strong MATOR partner, helping achieve program awareness and supporting demonstration activities.
The U.S. Forest Service
The US Forest Service has been a great partner working with MATOR on accessibility issues in national forests to increase access for all visitors.
Montana Vocational Rehabilitation and Independent Living Centers
These agencies provide information dissemination for MATOR activities and services.
Recreational AT Vendors and Manufacturers
MATOR partners with members of the AT industry for discounts and other supports.
Private Individuals and Member Organizations
Private individuals and organizations donate and help fund equipment, provide storage space for large equipment, and volunteer hours to facilitate activities and assist consumers.
MATOR’s success is attributable to the investment in
time, interest, and effort made by its individual and organizational partners,
and to the input it sought and received from potential and active participants
at the start of its development and now midstream. This input and feedback is extremely
important for determining activities planned and the types of specific
equipment purchased. In this way the program has been able to identify quality
services and locations for activities. The program has also been able to take advantage
of the experience and knowledge of individual MonTECH staff members who were
familiar with a range of adaptive recreational equipment at the outset.
MATOR’s Future and Potential as a National Model:
MATOR will be self-sustaining beyond FFY2011 with the help of its partners, and principally, MonTECH and the MATP. In Montana, AT Act funding supports an AT program infrastructure that can maintain and continue a demo/loan program in recreational AT. Alone, AT Act funds are inadaquate for the purchase of the adaptive recreational equipment needed to get such a program off the ground. For states with similar infrastructures, therefore, RSA’s three-year recreational programs grant may be an attractive source of seed funding, and RSA’s support for MATOR is an encouraging precedent.
Also check out this Alliance for Technology Access webinar on AT for recreation.
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