iCanConnect: A National Program Bringing People Together through Accessible Communications Technology and Training

Paula Slotkin and Jamie Taylor
June 2016 Issue Volume 17 Number 6
Deaf-blind Technology

Do you, or does someone you know, have combined significant vision and hearing loss? For those who meet federal income and disability guidelines, iCanConnect provides free communication technology and training to help people to stay connected with family and friends.

iCanConnect, also known as the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program, is mandated by the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010, and is administered by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC certifies one organization in each state to participate in iCanConnect. Paid for by the Interstate Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS) Fund, iCanConnect launched in 2013 and is currently in the pilot phase. The FCC has announced that iCanConnect will be a permanent program and has formally solicited public feedback to inform the rules the FCC is developing for the permanent program.

All state programs follow certain program rules, such as who is eligible for iCanConnect, and what kinds of equipment and software are permitted. It’s up to each state program to decide how best to serve its consumers within their allocated funds in areas such as who serves as trainers, how much training is available, and policies about how much equipment and software can be distributed and whether and how often it can be updated.

Once a participant applies and is approved for the iCanConnect program, an in-home assessment is performed to identify what type of equipment is best suited for him or her. This assessment is a critical part of the program. Key to consumers’ success is understanding their existing skill set and matching up the equipment to help them get the most out of the technology they will be using.

Following are two examples of how consumers are benefiting from being served by iCanConnect.

iCanConnect Participant Profile #1: Maryland Woman Stays lose with Friends and Family Using iCanConnect

When one of Annette Rogers’ closest friends moved to Florida a few years ago, it immediately became clear she needed better tech communication skills.

“She was computer savvy, but I was not,” said Annette, a retired nurse in Hyattsville, Maryland, who has both hearing and vision loss. Her friend, Mary, who is also deaf-blind, had helped her stay connected to the community.

“When she moved away, I started to have challenges,” Annette said. “I wouldn’t get my email. I wouldn’t find out what was going on.”

Annette was far from alone. Sending an email or chatting on the phone is challenging for many people who have significant combined vision and hearing loss and don’t have access to the right equipment and training.

Along with free communication equipment and software, iCanConnect provides training in the home, allowing participants to take full advantage of the powerful features and functionality that today’s communication technologies provide.

iCanConnect serves people from a wide range of backgrounds, including older people who have lost their sight and hearing later in life, people with Usher and CHARGE syndromes, and others with combined significant vision and hearing loss who meet federal income guidelines. The equipment provided includes smartphones, tablets, computers, screen readers, braille displays, and adaptive software.

Connecting with Friends and Family

Annette applied to the iCanConnect program and received a laptop in 2014. Her equipment, along with SARA, a text-to-speech device, allows her to check email and messages. “If it wasn’t for the iCanConnect instructor, I wouldn’t have been able to do that,” she said.

Staying in touch with her friend Mary is now easy. Annette also uses her laptop to email with her six children and grandchildren who are spread out around the country.

Thanks to iCanConnect, Annette Skypes with her five sisters in Trinidad, which she still finds amazing. “It’s a wonderful feeling. It’s like you can reach out and touch them without really touching them.”

“I want to reach as many people as possible. It keeps me happy and going all the time.”

iCanConnect Participant Profile #2: Using iCanConnect to cCommunicate with The World

Brian Coppola is a man who believes in taking action. A native of Massachusetts, the 50-year-old Methuen resident has advocated on behalf of the causes he supports by testifying to members of the state legislature, distributing petitions, and writing letters to lawmakers.

Brian has experienced limited vision and hearing since birth. As a person who is deaf-blind. Brian says advocating for himself, and not just others, is an important priority as well. “Self-advocacy is critical for people who are deaf-blind,” he says. “To help others, we have to look out for ourselves as well.”

Brian discovered iCanConnect in 2013. What attracted Brian most to the program was the new level of independence that communications technology could provide. “The shortcomings of isolation were you had to depend on other people to get out into the community,” says Brian. “It was hard to communicate with other people over the phone.”

Through iCanConnect, Brian received an iPad, a Clarity phone, and a ZoomText keyboard, as well as training support. “What I like about iCanConnect is that not only does it break the isolation, it allows a deaf-blind person to communicate more effectively and independently.” Brian says people of all backgrounds and abilities can benefit from what iCanConnect offers. “If people can actually see how a deaf-blind person can go about life through the use of assistive communications technology, they would see that a deaf-blind person can function in the community just the same as their non-deaf and blind peers.”

How to Apply to iCanConnect

If you have significant combined vision and hearing loss and meet income guidelines, you may be eligible for iCanConnect. Here’s how to apply for the program:

  • First, make sure you qualify, meaning your income meets federal income guidelines (within 400 percent of the federal poverty level) and you have significant combined vision and hearing loss. Federal income levels are listed on the iCanConnect website. You must have both a significant vision and a hearing loss, or a condition currently affecting one of the senses that is likely to result in a combined disability.
  • Contact your state iCanConnect program to learn more. You can find your contact on the iCanConnect website. They can give you an application, or you can download one from your state’s iCanConnect website page. You can also call 800-825-4595, or TTY 888-320-2656.
  • Identify a professional who can attest to your hearing and vision loss in writing. It can be an educator, healthcare provider, vision or hearing professional, speech pathologist, vocational rehabilitation counselor, and more.
  • If you receive any form of public assistance, including SSI, Medicaid, food stamps, etc., you are automatically income eligible. Otherwise, you must provide proof of household income that indicates it is within the program’s income guidelines. The information you submit is strictly treated as confidential.
  • Submit the completed application to your state iCanConnect office. Once you’re accepted, your iCanConnect representative will schedule an assessment to determine what equipment will best suit your communication preferences and distance communication goals. Then your equipment will be installed, and training will begin.

Types of Equipment and Software iCanConnect Offers

iCanConnect provides a wide range of communications technologies and software, along with in-the-home training, that makes it possible for people who are deaf-blind to connect with others.

Braille Devices

Braille equipment provided through the iCanConnect program includes a wide variety of refreshable displays and sophisticated multipurpose devices. Some can be used as stand-alone devices while others are paired with mobile devices to provide tactile access to e-mail, text messaging, and the web. To receive braille equipment, eligible consumers must be proficient in braille.

Computers

iCanConnect provides both Windows and Apple computers, including desktops and laptops, to eligible consumers who have internet access. The program can also provide large monitors if needed.

Mobile Devices

Cell phones, smartphones, tablets, and associated accessories such as keyboards and protective cases are all available through iCanConnect. The program provides the equipment, but the consumer must pay for his or her own Internet or cellular service or have?ready?access to free?Wi-Fi.

Phones

iCanConnect offers a variety of amplified speaker phones, cordless phones, and related devices that connect to the landline telephone service. An eligible consumer must have telephone service to be considered for this type of equipment.

Signalers

Audible, visual, and vibrating signalers provided by iCanConnect to alert the user to a phone ringing, e-mails, texts and other types of distance communications.

Software

iCanConnect provides screen reader and screen magnifier software programs. A screen reader can serve as an interface between a computer and a braille display, and for those with some usable hearing, it also provides synthesized speech output of what is on the computer screen.

Learn More about iCanConnect

To learn more about the iCanConnect program and find your state program, visit the iCanConnect website, email, call 800-824-4595, or TTY 888-320-2656.

Reproduced from http://www.afb.org/afbpress/pub.asp?DocID=aw170605&utm_source=AFB&utm_medium=email