April 22, 2015

Editor's Note: The Usher Syndrome Coalition was approached by iCanConnect in order to spread the word about the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program. We encourage you to read on about this free valuable resource, administered by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

By Marcia Brooks, National Project Manager – Perkins, National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program

You’re probably familiar with the old expression that “nothing is free, and there’s always a catch.” Fortunately, there are a few shining exceptions to this rule, and the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program, also known as iCanConnect, is one of them.

iCanConnect provides free distance communication equipment, including smartphones, tablets, computers, screen reading software, and braille readers -- as well as training and support -- to people who are deaf-blind and who meet federal income guidelines. Today, iCanConnect is enriching the lives of people like Willie Bivins by helping them stay connected with others.

A picture of Willie Bivins using iCanConnect equipment

Willie Bivins, iCanConnect consumer

Bivins of Statesboro, Georgia, is a wordsmith. A poet and writer by trade, Bivins knows the power of expression and communication, but struggled to express himself when he wasn’t in the same room as other people. The 64-year-old is blind with significant hearing loss, a result of Usher syndrome.

Reflecting on his life today, Bivins uses the word “amazing” to describe how new technology has helped him bridge that gap. Through the iCanConnect program, he received a Braille Edge 40, an Apple iPad and a Bluetooth keyboard, tools he now uses to send and receive emails, text messages, news and information. “It saved my life,” says Bivins. “I can communicate!” 

To be eligible for iCanConnect, applicants must have combined significant hearing and vision loss (or a progressive condition such as Usher syndrome that leads to deaf-blindness) and meet federal income guidelines.

After a consumer is accepted into the program, he or she receives an assessment to identify the best distance communication equipment to meet his or her needs. The participant also receives a customized training plan that factors in his or her specific disabilities and distance communication goals. The equipment is ordered and installed and the participant’s iCanConnect trainer provides training and support in the person’s home or residence.

Today, iCanConnect is enabling participants to use social media, send and receive emails, and use Skype and FaceTime to stay connected with family and friends. Grandparents and grandchildren, young people and old, and people of all backgrounds are staying in touch with the help of this innovative program.

If you’re still wondering how all of this can be free, here’s some background. The National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program is mandated by the 21st Century Video and Accessibility Act (CVAA), signed into federal law in 2010. Many have called this landmark legislation the digital equivalent of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The CVAA directs the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to administer the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program, and the FCC may use up to $10 million annually to fund it.

Go to www.iCanConnect.org for all the information you need to find your state program and apply, learn more about the types of equipment that are available, and learn how iCanConnect is changing the lives of people of all backgrounds today by helping them to stay connected with friends, family, and the world at large.


Find out where to apply in your state:

Go to http://www.icanconnect.org/state-partners
Or call 1-800-825-4595, 1-888-320-2656 (TTY)

Reference the FCC’s NDBEDP consumer guide, which includes the program’s disability guidelines and income eligibility chart: http://www.fcc.gov/guides/national-deaf-blind-equipment-distribution-program
Learn more about available distance communication equipment: http://www.icanconnect.org/equipment
Watch Tech Minutes, a series of short videos that demonstrates how some of the equipment available through iCanConnect is used: http://www.icanconnect.org/tech-minutes
Learn the latest news and features about people in the program: http://www.icanconnect.org/news
The FCC’s NDBEDP website: http://www.fcc.gov/encyclopedia/national-deaf-blind-equipment-distribution-program

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