Q&A: Launch of the National DeafBlind Equipment Distribution Program

A conversation with Steven Rothstein

Trainer demonstrating technology to woman who is deafblind with headshot of Rothstein

iCanConnect.org, a nationwide outreach campaign commissioned for the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program (NDBEDP), was launched earlier this year to put communication technology in the hands of Americans who are deaf-blind. We sat down with Perkins President Steven Rothstein to talk about Perkins' pivotal role in this important initiative.

Why did Perkins get involved in the NDBEDP?

This has the potential to have the greatest impact in the lives of individuals who are deaf-blind since Helen Keller came to Perkins. Just as requiring curb cuts and ramps a generation ago made public spaces more accessible to people in wheelchairs, this initiative offers people who are deaf-blind a ramp onto the information highway, and with it access to the world in a way they have not had previously. This will be transformative for individuals from Alaska to the Virgin Islands.

What will Perkins do to help make the NDBEDP successful?

Perkins has partnered with dozens of organizations around the nation to ensure that people with combined hearing and vision loss, who qualify for this program, get the products they are entitled to receive. This is so important that we are committed to do everything possible to make this program effective, from assessing consumers to distributing technology to training consumers on how to use this equipment.

How will the iCanConnect campaign reach people who are deaf-blind?

iCanConnect is the campaign which promotes the NDBEDP. We are reaching people online at the website iCanConnect.org and through grassroots efforts with organizations that work directly with people who are deaf-blind. Our team and partners are attending conferences to promote this effort, and we have partners with nationwide reach who are helping to get the word out. In addition, we are sharing information through press releases, public service announcements, social networking and word of mouth.

How is this program funded?

As part of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, there is a fund of $10 million annually. This is administered through the Federal Communications Commission. They have done a great job in establishing the procedures and ensure timely roll-out. Funds are allocated by state based on population.

What type of equipment is available?

This innovative program includes technology that makes distance communication more accessible. This includes technology available for use through computers, mobile and landline telephones and more. There are potentially hundreds of devices which could be distributed through this program to the close to 1 million people who are eligible. If there is anyone you know who can benefit from the NDBEDP due to combined vision and hearing loss, they can reach out through iCanConnect.org.

Why is the NDBEDP important for people who are deaf-blind?

It is important for all of us as human beings to feel a sense of connection. Connection to those we care about, connection to peers and colleagues, connection to the world in general. Keeping everyone connected is important, and subsequently this program is important because it allows people who might otherwise be isolated to be connected.