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Free technology for people with hearing and vision loss

THE National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program’s ICanConnect is providing free technology to people with hearing and vision loss so they can reconnect to the world.

In an interview, Cathy Kirsher, ICanVonnect the program representative, said to qualify, the candidate must have significant combination of hearing and vision loss verified by a doctor or a professional service provider.

The candidate must also earn under $48,000 a year, and can be trained to use adaptive technology that makes it possible to use a telephone, a computer or other communications equipment.

“People have to have both disabilities to qualify for this program,” Kirsher said.

In addition, disability eligibility must meet at least one of these hearing guidelines: chronic hearing disabilities so severe that most speech cannot be understood with optimum amplification; and progressive hearing loss having a prognosis leading to the condition.

For sight guidelines: visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with corrective lenses; a field defect such that the peripheral diameter of visual field subtends an angular distance no greater than 20 degrees; and progressive visual loss with a prognosis leading to one or both of above conditions.      

ICanConnect is administered by the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults.

Implemented in the U.S. five years ago, the program was created by the Federal Communications Commission to help people with disabilities receive accessible technology.

According to Kirsher, they received a letter from Office of Vocational Rehabilitation Executive Director Arlene Yamagata who said the CNMI needs the program.

“The Vocational Rehabilitation Office said they have three people who would qualify. We also have on our list five kids and I will meet with a vision specialist to find out if they are also candidates for the program,” Kirsher said.

She said the program’s goal is to get technology into the hands of people with combined hearing and vision loss to provide them with communication tools.

The types of equipment available include Braille devices, computers, mobile devices, phones and signalers.

If a qualified individual is not interested in computer or cellphone technology, Kirsher said iCanConnect can provide the individual with a phone acceptable to him or her. “We can provide devices that have large buttons, if they have low vision, and amplified sound that goes up to 60 decibels which is a pretty good boost.”

An iCanConnect specialist will identify, install and provide training for equipment that meets an individual’s needs.

“We have been doing this for five years on the mainland and we hooked up a lot of people for specialized accessible technology,” Kirsher said. “It is the CNMI’s turn to have accessible technology. This helps connect people with hearing and vision loss to the world and allows them to communicate with family and friends. They may be able to work. I think that is why it is an important program for the CNMI.”

She said many seniors in the U.S. have availed themselves of the program. “A third of 65 to 75 years old have hearing loss. By that age one of the main reasons for vision loss is macular degeneration —glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy. But though this program, those people are connected again.”

She added, “They used to depend on their family member or friend to do errands for them. With accessible technology, people can be as independent as possible. It is a life-changing program for them.”

Source: Marianas Variety : http://www.mvariety.com/cnmi/cnmi-news/local/98708-free-technology-for-people-with-hearing-and-vision-loss

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