Tanisha Verdejo loves to surf the Internet for shopping deals. She chats on Facebook, learns about new recipes and enjoys sending emails to friends and family. Verdejo, who can’t see or hear, could do none of that a year ago.
The 40-year-old New Yorker lives in a group home in Port Washington and is among the thousands of people with combined hearing and vision loss to have benefited from a pilot program called iCanConnect. The initiative provides low-income deaf-blind individuals with the most up-to-date telecommunications devices for free and special training to use them.
“For me, it’s opened up my whole world,” Verdejo said through a sign language interpreter at the Helen Keller National Center in suburban Long Island. The center, along with the Boston-based Perkins School for the Blind, is working with state agencies and others around the country to distribute items like refreshable Braille displays, amplified telephones and computer programs that allow for large print displays for those who may be vision-impaired but not entirely blind.
Much of the equipment is compatible with Apple devices such as the iPhone and iPad and connect via Bluetooth.
“Modern technology has rapidly progressed, and we are available to provide individuals with combined vision and hearing loss the best technology and telecommunications tools for their individual needs,” said Thomas J. Edwards, president of Helen Keller Services for the Blind, which has 11 regional offices around the country.
For Verdejo and others, the changes have been dramatic.
“I’m able now to access anything I want,” Verdejo said. “I mean, I have all these apps here and can see anything now. I see it through my Braille device. I’m just so thrilled and happy that I’m able to communicate with the world.”
Established by the Federal Communications Commission, the pilot program allocates $10 million annually for low-income deaf-blind people to get the equipment. The program, which is in the second year of a three-year study, is open to individuals earning less than $44,680 annually, with income limits slightly higher in Hawaii and Alaska.