December 2020 Newsletter

  • Tips to Participate in the 2021 Legislative Session
  • Supported Decision Making
  • Montana Women’s Prison Agrees to Provide Hearing Impaired Woman With Effective Communication Devices
  • Representative Payee Program
  • VR Waiting List
  • COVID-19 Vaccine Information in Plain Language
  • DRM's 2021 Conference Save the Date
  • DRM's Holiday Closure Message


Tips to Participate in the 2021 Legislative Session

Not surprisingly, the upcoming 2021 legislative session will be a bit different than in prior years. Although at this time we do not have a clear idea as to how this session will be conducted, it is as important as ever that people who are interested in disability issues make a plan to participate in the process and ensure that their state representatives and senators know their values and opinions.

We are proud to be able to get you information every Friday during the session about upcoming hearings, and developments as they occur. We do this to keep you informed as best we can to help you participate in the process. Regardless of the rules that are adopted, you will always be able to contact your legislators by emailing them or calling them by phone. Click here to find their email address and phone number in their legislator information.

When you contact a Representative or Senator, you should include the number of the bill or resolution you are contacting them about. As they get quite a few emails, you should give them a relatively short and specific explanation as to why you support or oppose the measure. Then ask them to either support or oppose the measure.    

You can find the bills at$.startup?P_SESS=20211. Each bill page will tell you where the bill is in the process and what committee it will be heard by. Click here to look up committees in the House and Senate. When you select a committee, that page will tell you who is on the committee, so you can contact them to tell them what you think about the bill.

We worked hard during the interim to get the support of 7 important measures. These bills were endorsed by the interim committees that heard them, and now they will be presented to the full legislature. Four of these bills address substantial flaws that we have seen in the senior and long term care division’s provision of services to people with substantial physical disabilities. Two of these bills modernize the adult guardianship process in Montana and provide more protection to those under guardianship. The final bill promises greater accessibility of elections including not only federal and state elections but school and other local jurisdiction elections as well. 

Click here for an in-depth explanation.


Supported Decision Making

During the 1970s and 1980s, there was a movement to reform adult guardianships. Its goal was to update guardianships to reflect the actual lives and needs of people with disabilities. Despite its efforts, the movement fell short. More work needs to be done in many states, including Montana, which hasn’t updated its guardianship statutes for over 40 years. 

One of the flaws with the old model of guardianship is the false belief that a person with a disability has a static capacity to make decisions. We know that people can experience changes in their capacity across time. Just like individuals without disabilities, people with disabilities can learn and develop their abilities to make decisions with support.

Disability Rights Montana has been working to improve state guardianship law for the last three legislative sessions and this session is no exception.

To compliment this work, we are making it a priority to bring the Supported Decision Making movement to the forefront in Montana. We will do this by selecting appropriate cases to provide advocacy and/or legal representation to remove full guardianships for people who don’t need them. In their place, we would be helping to create an arrangement that supports the decision-making of the individual (called a “supported decision making” agreement). If this is not appropriate, we will modify existing guardianships to less restrictive, limited arrangements that are based on the person’s needs.

We will also be continuing our reform efforts through special education outreach, and providing training and other information about the outstanding issues in guardianship proceedings.


Montana Women’s Prison Agrees to Provide Hearing Impaired Woman With Effective Communication Devices

In November, an inmate with a hearing impairment at the Montana Women’s Prison settled her claim against the facility for failing to provide effective communication. Our client, Cassandra Larue, brought her claim in July, after the facility had failed to provide a means for her to effectively communicate using the prison telephones, in prison programs that prepare her for parole and release and in programs conducted by volunteers in the facility, including Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

In the settlement, the facility agreed to provide her a personal amplification device for her to wear that helps her understand conversations, install 11 more amplified phones throughout the prison, refer her to her audiologist to determine whether she needs a second hearing aid, and provide a list of which local news programs are closed captioned so she can watch those. Finally, the prison agreed to write a letter to the parole board listing all the many educational programs she has completed, and explain that it was not her fault that she could not complete other educational programs as they were conducted in a manner that would not allow her to hear them. We were very happy to help her with her case, which will help not just Ms. Larue, but other inmates with hearing impairments in the facility.


Representative Payee Program

A representative payee is a person who has been appointed to receive Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income on behalf of a person who has been deemed not fully capable of managing their own benefits. This arrangement is meant to help the beneficiary. Unfortunately, investigations have uncovered representative payees who have stolen or misused funds, exploited, neglected and even abused the beneficiaries with disabilities who they were supposed to be helping.

In March 2018, Congress increased oversight and protection for these beneficiaries by initiating a new program where the National Disability Rights Network and the Protection and Advocacy (P&A) Network work with the Social Security Administration to monitor representative payees throughout the country. Through this collaboration, the P&A’s have expanded protection of Social Security beneficiaries by educating representative payees about their responsibilities and identifying case of misuse. In Montana, Disability Rights Montana is the P&A who will assist with questions regarding your payee. Call 1-800-245-4743.

Here is a short video about this program and how to contact us about issues with representative payees.


If you are on the VR Waiting List, Keep In Touch With Your Local Office to Check in  

The MT Vocational Rehabilitation program is currently working through their waiting list and offering services to more individuals. If you are on the waiting list and have not heard from VR in a while, make sure you contact your local VR office to check in. You should make sure that your name is still on the waiting list and that you have updated your address, phone number, and/or email addresses so they can contact you when your name comes up on the list. Keeping VR informed of any changes is the client’s responsibility. If you need any assistance with a VR counselor or VR issue problem, please contact our CAP advocate, Kathy Hampton, at 1-800-245-4743.


COVID-19 Vaccine Information in Plain Language

DRM is a member of the Montana Covid-19 Vaccination Plan Coordination Team. As has been widely reported, the first wave of COVID-19 vaccines is being administered to frontline health care workers in Montana currently. The next wave of vaccines is anticipated to be available in Montana during the last week of December and provided to those in nursing homes and assisted living centers. We have strongly advocated for the next wave to include other individuals who are at high risk of poor outcomes if they get infected. That wave is anticipated to begin in mid-January. Here is a plain language resource to help people think about and prepare for when the vaccines become available to them.

Picture of a branches covered in snow.

Holiday Closure

Disability Rights Montana's office will be closed from December 24th through January 3rd, 2021. Our voicemail will be monitored daily, so if you have an urgent need, please leave a message. Only emergency calls will be returned. All other calls will be returned on January 4th. 

On behalf of our Board and staff, we wish you all a safe and happy holiday season.


Protection & Advocacy Service Training

We are more than happy to provide training and workshops to others. We welcome nonprofits, clients, workplaces, and more, to reach out to us if you would like for us to present about our services, and how we can provide assistance. Call 406-449-2344 or email


"Advocating for justice is our individual and collective responsibility."

Executive Director,
Disability Rights Montana
Bernie Franks-Ongoy


Share This

Disability Rights Montana protects and advocates for the human, legal, and civil rights of Montanans with disabilities while advancing dignity, equality, and self-determination.

Copyright © 2020 Disability Rights Montana, All rights reserved

Disability Rights Montana
1022 Chestnut Street  | Helena, Montana 59601
406-449-2344 |

Having trouble viewing this email? View it in your web browser