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Community Spotlight: iCanConnect, the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program

Interview with Heather Anderson, iCanConnect representative

7/29/2020 11:52:36 AM

ICC logo with silhouettes of people in a line, all connected.

Heather Anderson was interviewed by Kaitlyn Mielke online. Heather has worked in the community as a job coach, SSP (Support Staff Provider), DeafBlind interpreter, Independent Living Skills coach, and volunteer. She started working part time in 2012  with Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Division, supporting the State’s DeafBlind Consumer Directed Services grant program and the new Federal pilot program iCanConnect. In late 2014, she began working with iCanConnect in a full time capacity to coordinate the Minnesota program and work in partnership with Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts.

Who does the iCC program serve? Who is eligible?

Heather: The program serves people with combined significant hearing and vision loss, who meet the program’s disability and income guidelines. Check iCC's See if You Qualify page for more information. 

While the program does not have age restrictions, every person who meets the income and disability eligibility requirements must be able to demonstrate they are able to engage in distance communication in order to be eligible for equipment and services.

How can a prospective consumer receive products through the iCC? What does the process look like?

Heather: Once consumers are accepted into the program, they receive an individualized assessment that addresses each person’s specific hearing and vision loss, goals for distance communication, prior experience with equipment, and existing equipment they have. Equipment is purchased, then it’s setup and installed and training begins. Each local program makes decisions about what each program participant receives within program guidelines.

What kind of equipment does the iCC provide?

Heather: The equipment distributed through the program is designed to make the following services accessible:

  • Voice communication through wireline and wireless telephones.
  • Internet-based voice communication.
  • Email, text messaging, and instant messaging.
  • Interoperable video conferencing services.
  • Internet access, including information services.

The equipment may be mainstream or specialized hardware, software or applications and must meet the needs of the deaf-blind individual to achieve access. Equipment warranties, maintenance and repairs may also be provided. Examples of the categories of equipment iCanConnect provides are listed. 

What are the most common requests?

Heather: The equipment provided varies depending on individuals and advancements in technology. However, in my experience the most requested equipment in Minnesota are:

  • Cellular phones: for accessible text size, colors, Bluetooth capacities connecting to hearing aids, Cochlear Implants with Bluetooth connectivity, or headsets.
  • Tablets: for similar reasons as cellular but much larger screen size for improved access; and for some who do not have cellular service and use WiFi only. Tablets can improve video communications for some, increases magnification for emails and other family / friend contact.
  • Computers and accessible software: Laptops and Desktops / software: ZoomText and Jaws.
  • Braille Displays: various options for access. Some braille displays can receive communications independent of another device and use WiFi connection to the internet; and some displays connect to cellular, tablet or computer to receive braille information from the device itself.
  • Landline based amplified phones or captioning phones: some individuals request additional support for amplification phones, Captioning, and answering machines with message review speed options.

Who provides the equipment? (How is the program funded?)

Heather: As per the Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, signed into federal law on October 8, 2010, the FCC established the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program (NDBEDP) to certify and provide funding to entities in each state so they can distribute specialized customer premises equipment to low-income individuals who are deaf-blind. The program is funded through the Interstate Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS) Fund.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) administers the program in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands. The FCC certifies one organization in each state/U.S. Territory to administer the program locally, and provides funding for qualified consumer services and equipment, local outreach, and train-the-trainer expenses. National outreach for the entire program is also funded.

Within the program rules, each local program determines the equipment and services provided.

How can folks contact iCC for more information and questions?

Heather: Find your local program at iCC's website or call 800-825-4595. Applications to the program can be downloaded at each state program’s page on the website, or can be provided upon request from each state program contact.

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