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December 9, 2002

Rep. Phillips' bill would expand definition of person with disability

From: Shamokin News Item, PA - 09 Dec 2002

HARRISBURG - Pennsylvanians who require technology to independently access telecommunications services will be eligible for free devices with the recent passage of a bill sponsored by state Rep. Merle Phillips, R-108.
The bill, which is presently awaiting Gov. Mark Schweiker's signature, amends the Dual Party Relay Service and Telecommunication Device Distribution Program Act, Act 34 of 1995, by expanding the definition of 'persons with a disability' to provide free telecommunication devices to any Pennsylvania resident with a certified disability who needs the technology to communicate.
"Whether able or disabled, it is important that we all are able to communicate effectively," Phillips said following the unanimous support received for the measure from both houses of the General Assembly. 'This change to the definitions in the act will make more Pennsylvanians eligible to receive this vital piece of equipment.'
A TTY is a device used by persons who are deaf, blind, hard-of-hearing, hearing impaired or speech impaired. It consists of a keyboard, display screen and a modem that moves the electrical signals, produced by the letters on the keyboard, through telephone lines. The device 'rings' via flashing lights. When the signals reach their destination they are converted back into letters that appear on a display screen or are printed out or both. The device costs between $300 and $600. There are approximately 4 million users nationwide, 3 million of whom are hearing impaired and the other million of whom have severe speech impairments.
With the enactment of Act 34, deaf people and those who are hard of hearing and persons with speech and language disorders, a relay service was provided that allowed them to communicate by telephone and assisting technology. The act also established the Telecommunications Device Distribution Program to provide the specialized telecommunications devices, such as text telephones and amplifiers, at no charge to persons who are deaf or hard of hearing.
There is an income qualification for the free devices, Phillips said, which is less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or less than $17,720 for a one-person household. In addition the person with the qualified disability must be at least 6 years of age, be a resident of Pennsylvania, have phone service and have the ability to learn how to use the system.
With the advent of message relay centers in the late '90s, TTYs and TDDs can connect with any phone anywhere at anytime with the help of the operators who are on duty around the clock.
"Now persons who are certified as disabled have the luxury of just being able to pick up the phone and chat, and it is easier to connect to police and fire stations in case of emergency," Phillips said.
The governor is expected to sign the measure, House Bill 2424, before the end of December. The law will go into effect 60 days after it is signed.

© The News Item 2002