“I can’t imagine life without technology” a passionate Sharon Giovinazzo declares. She trains deaf-blind consumers who receive distance communications equipment to help them connect with family and friends through National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program (NDBEDP), which is promoted as iCanConnect.
“It’s not just impacting lives; it’s changing lives. You have people that have been isolated for years because they have no connectivity. Suddenly, they’re connected and they’re building relationships,” she says. “It’s just opening up so many doors.”
Monique Brazelton, who manages iCanConnect through the Tennessee Regulatory Authority in Nashville agrees. “The program will changes lives in that it will improve productivity and address the digital divide gap for our blind-deaf consumers.”
Now in its second year, iCanConnect provides a wide array of modern distance communications technology, plus one-on-one training, to people with significant hearing and vision loss who meet income guidelines. Equipment ranges from iPhones and iPads to specialized adaptive software, phone amplifiers and braille displays, all designed to allow people to connect with family, friends and community.
Giovinazzo is a vice president at RLCB, Inc., a company that provides programs and services for people who are visually impaired and deaf-blind. At the age of 31, doctors diagnosed her with Multiple Sclerosis; within seven months she was blind. Later, her hearing started to decline to the point where she now has severe hearing loss.
An “early adopter” of technology, Giovinazzo is surrounded by different pieces of technology in her life: an iPad, a computer, an iPhone, a braille display and a PC. She says the way people who are deaf-blind adapt to the equipment they receive depends on the individual—she stresses no single piece of equipment is better than another. The benefits, however, are tremendous, she says.
“It took me losing my sight to gain a vision. That’s what I want to do for everybody else.”
In fact, she’s doing just that. Giovinazzo recently returned from a three-day, 750 mile journey across Montana to meet with 14 people who have applied to the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program and provide assessments so they might qualify to receive high tech tools to help them communicate.
Giovinazzo is poetic in her own assessment of what iCanConnect means. “As the mountains stretch above the horizon and the plains reach as far as the eye can see, now Montanans who have a dual sensory loss will be able to reach the world.”
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.