Willie 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.
Today, Bivins might use the word “amazing” to describe how new technology has helped him bridge that gap. Recently 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 tremendously,” exclaims Bivins. “I can communicate!”
The equipment came through the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program, which is promoted as iCanConnect. The program provides communications equipment at no cost to low-income people with significant hearing and vision loss. Smartphones, computers, amplified phones and much more are available to people who meet the income guidelines. The program also provides expert one-on-one training so consumers learn how to use the equipment to fit their individual needs.
Born blind, Bivins began losing his hearing in his early childhood. He admits it was a struggle to maintain good grades in school, but he persevered—eventually earning his Master’s in Psychology from Florida A & M University. His hearing and vision loss make it difficult to maintain a full-time job, so Bivins uses his new communications tools to find work as a freelance writer. He’s grateful for the opportunity to share his passion for prose and poetry and to feel connected to his family and friends.
Stephanie Jackson of the Georgia Council for the Hearing Impaired (GACHI), is coordinator of iCanConnect/Georgia. She can quickly recall hugs she’s received from people she’s met through the program—some of whom shed tears at the prospect of receiving life-changing telecommunications equipment at no cost.
“Being able to provide our deaf-blind consumers of Georgia with accessible and adaptive modern technology that enhances their independence, productivity, and quality of life is an experience well worth the hard work that goes into making this program successful.”
It didn’t take long for Bivins to pen an essay about iCanConnect after he had settled in with his new communications tools.
“I wanted people to know how hard it is sometimes to be deaf and blind, to communicate and to live. I wanted people to know that the equipment made a difference.” Bivins wrote.
His essay expressed heartfelt thanks to everyone who helped and encouraged him. “Finally, the miracle happened. Finally, the dream came true.”
iCanConnect is available in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Learn more at www.iCanConnect.org. Click on “State Partners” to find each state’s contacts. The website is accessible to users with low vision and those who use screen readers, and it features video that is both audio described and captioned. Information about iCanConnect is also available by calling 1-800-825-4595 Voice or 1-888-320-2656 TTY.