“We live in a society where we have to connect,” says Ramona Rice of Riverdale, Utah. For people with combined hearing and vision loss like Ramona, sending emails or chatting on the phone is difficult or impossible without access to the right adaptive communication technology. “Without that, it’s a very lonely world.”
Rice, who is 55 years-old, has had hearing loss since birth, and began losing her eyesight 13 years ago. Doctors diagnosed her with Usher Syndrome. Because she met disability and income guidelines, Rice was able to apply to the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program, which is promoted as iCanConnect. The program provides communications technology so people with combined hearing and vision loss can stay connected through the telephone and online. Smartphones, tablets, screen readers and more are available at no cost to individuals who qualify.
Rice received a laptop computer, an iPad and a braille device, as well as training on how to use her new tools. Today, Rice sends emails and texts, uses Skype to make distance calls, and accesses Facebook to stay in touch with family and friends.
The program has made a huge difference in Ramona’s life. She says it’s restored her confidence and dignity.
“Ramona conveyed how the equipment she received has allowed her to integrate more fully in society. It has changed her outlook on life for the better,” says Gary Widerburg, commission secretary for the Utah Public Service Commission, which administers iCanConnect Utah.
In fact, Widerburg says, Rice has become an advocate for iCanConnect and for the deaf-blind community. She’s hoping her new communications tools will help her return to school and, possibly, get back into the workforce.
“I’ve been given a chance to be a productive member of society and I thank you all genuinely from my heart,” she says.
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.