U.S. residents who are deafblind can now count on a permanent program that offers free access to vital communications technology and training.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted in May to make permanent its National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program, known as iCanConnect. Established as a pilot program in 2012, the program provides up to $10 million annually for free communications equipment, like accessible mobile phones or text-to-speech software, for individuals who have significant, combined vision and hearing loss and meet federal income guidelines.
“Communications technology can tear down barriers for people who are deafblind, opening up new opportunities for more active daily lives, community involvement and even employment,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. “By extending and improving the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program, we empower thousands to lead more independent lives and ensure that the fundamental American promise of opportunity for all includes low-income Americans with disabilities.”
Perkins has directed national outreach for iCanConnect since its inception, running multimedia and digital marketing campaigns to encourage residents who are deafblind to apply for the program. Perkins also leads the program’s operations in 19 states, and will continue to do so for the next year.
Marcia Brooks, the national project manager for iCanConnect at Perkins, said the FCC’s decision is great news for people who are deafblind.
“I was elated,” she said. “This program has vastly impacted people’s lives. There are people who have been reconnected with family members after decades, people who have enjoyed more job opportunities and parents who say that their child has flourished and is now is able to go to college.”
Once an individual qualifies for iCanConnect, they receive an assessment to determine the best technology for their communication needs. For some, that might mean a laptop with screen-reading software; for others, a wireless amplifier to attach to a mobile phone. The cost of technology and training is reimbursed through the program, which is available to individuals in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
For Massachusetts resident Lori Siedman, iCanConnect enabled her to reconnect with family and stay in touch with friends. She uses a Macbook Pro laptop with ZoomText (text magnification software) and a large monitor to read and respond to emails, and an iPhone to text back and forth with family.
“If I didn’t have my laptop, phone and tablet, I wouldn’t be able to do the things I can do now – like text my family and use email and Facebook to stay in touch,” she said. “I wouldn’t be able to enjoy my life like I do now. It would be completely different.”
Visit iCanConnect to learn more about the program and eligibility.