The University of the Virgin Islands program for people with combined hearing and vision loss – iCanConnect – will become a permanent service through the UVI Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (VIUCEDD,) sponsored by the Perkins School for the Blind, administrators announced this week.
Marcia Brooks, program director for Perkins School, said the purpose of the federal program is to “level the playing field” for adults and children who suffer higher unemployment and lower income due to their hearing and vision disabilities.
The program was established by the Federal Communications Commission to comply with a federal law that mandates people with disabilities and low income have access to modern communications technology. It is available in 21 states and territories.
Those who qualify for the program receive training and telephones, computers, tablets, and other communications equipment, free of charge. Representatives from VIUCEDD on St. Thomas and St. Croix evaluate the applicant’s disability, which also are certified by medical personnel or a social worker, and income. They then forward their recommendation to Perkins to approve the devices and services.
Sharon Williams, the iCanConnect program director for the university, said some clients need more training than others, depending on their disability, reading ability and technical knowledge. Sometimes a smart phone is the answer, she said, because of such available applications as voice commands and large fonts.
Since 2014, when the Virgin Islands program started, more than 20 individuals have been assessed for the program and, so far, eight have been given devices and training.
“This program is important because it provides equipment and training to people with deafness and blindness and they can connect with friends and family. Emailing and phoning can be difficult without the right equipment,” Williams said.
One of the clients is a 55-year-old grandmother who was born deaf and became blind around the age of 12 when she suffered an injury. Neither eye drops nor surgery helped and she remains completely blind in one eye and with blurred vision in the other. She communicates mainly through American Sign Language. The St. Croix resident was approved for the iCanConnect program and received a 17-inch laptop Zbook and case, a keyboard with large-letter ZoomText Magnifier software and training for the equipment. Now, she can send email to her daughter in the U.S. Navy and looks forward to Skyping with her granddaughter when she is older.
“Persons of all ages can benefit from the program and training. And it’s offered at no cost to the consumer or their families,” Williams said
More information about the program is available by calling Williams at 340-642-4627.