Thanks to iCanConnect, Indiana Man Reconnects with Loved Ones after Decades

May 27, 2015
Jeff Hess of Indiana writes an email using iCanConnect equipment

Not many people nowadays can envision going for a few hours or days – let alone weeks -- without hearing from a friend or relative.

But that was Jeff Hess’ reality for more than 20 years.

Jeff lost his vision and a significant amount of his hearing in 1987 after he contracted cryptococcal meningitis, a rare form of the disease that resulted in a coma. When he awoke, he could no longer see. Jeff, who was actively training for a half-marathon at the time he became ill, spent the next year re-learning basic skills and how to live as a person who is blind and hearing impaired.

Jeff, now 63, spent the next several decades living a life of isolation at the secluded Spencer, Indiana, house he had built as a young newlywed.

That all changed about a year ago when his ex-wife, Kathy, learned about the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program, known as iCanConnect, which provides equipment and training to people with significant combined hearing and vision loss. In the last 12 months, Jeff, who was completely unfamiliar with technology, has undergone training on how to use his new computer with both qwerty and braille keyboards. 

A one-handed typist due to limited use of his left arm, Jeff now sends and receives emails each day.

Just a few weeks ago, Jeff sent his very first message to Kathy. Since then, his list of contacts has grown, and he is adding new email addresses regularly. He has been able to communicate with his sister who lives several states away. For the first time in 25 years, he has also been in contact with his brother, as well as his aunt and uncle.

The excitement Jeff experienced at sending his first email was contagious, according to his sister, Julie Gaskins, who remembers him giggling with glee.

Julie visits Jeff each week to visit and deliver his groceries. Thanks to his new computer and keyboards, now Jeff is able to email his shopping list to his sister, saving her from having to guess his order – and subsequent trips to the store for those items she overlooked.

“It was exciting to be able to actually communicate with her on a private basis,” Jeff said.

And, now that he’s able to talk with more relatives, Jeff has been busy catching up on family news – such as his nephew’s recent vacation and who attended Easter dinner -- as well as important updates on his mother, who is dealing with health issues.

“We never could have imagined this happening five years ago,” Julie said.