Kirshner: free comm devices for the deaf-blind

Cathy Kirshner speaks to disabilities-access professionals on Tuesday in Hagatna. [Photo: Ken Pueblo.]

Huh? Would it surprise you to learn that up to 16,000 people on Guam could have significant hearing loss—or that some folks on island suffer enough combined hearing and vision loss to make calling 911 difficult or even impossible? As you’ll learn in this story, access is on its way…

Guam – “If you’re a hearing aid user, you can use this and still have your hearing aid on,” Cathy Kirshner told those gathered for a special presentation on audiovisual aids while showing off a special headset for the hearing impaired on Tuesday in Hagatna. “These are about $160 dollars and they’re Blue Tooth—you can answer an iPhone on this.”

Kirshner is an audiovisual aid expert from the Helen Keller Foundation who’s presenting a helpful assistive technology initiative to disabilities-access professionals, for qualified end users on Guam. She gave a short, informative presentation at the Dept. of Integrated Services for Individuals with Disabilities (DISID) at the DNA Building in the island’s capital.

“I will tell you how this project started about eight years ago. A group of young deaf-blind people on the mainland who called themselves Step One Young Adults In Action—they reached the FCC in Washington, DC, and they simplified, and they simply said, ‘we can’t call 911,’” Kirshner told an audience of 25 or 30 people.

Kirshner is on island on a special grant written up by Ben Servino, the Director of the Dept. of Integrated Services for Individuals with Disabilities (DISID). The program is sponsored by the Federal Communications Commission and is premised on a pronounced need for financially disadvantaged blind-deaf individuals to seek help in emergencies.

But since then, the FCC program has expanded to include accessible online communications of all kinds.

“Technology helps people with hearing and vision loss connect in many ways, with widescreen monitors and braille note-takers, laptops, screen magnification software, braille displays, screen-reading software, speech software, and smartphones, desktop computers, specialized keyboards, and more,” says an online FCC video.

According to the FCC’s official website, “the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program, also known as iCanConnect, provides equipment needed to make telecommunications, advanced communications, and the Internet accessible to low-income individuals who have both significant vision and significant hearing loss.”

The program is available in all 50 states, Washington, DC, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and now DISID is now making inroads for Guam.

Kirshner says the program has given hope to the hopeless, even allowing 911 access via text messaging.

For more information about the FCC’s iCanConnect program locally, contact the Dept. of Integrated Services for Individuals with Disabilities and its Division of Vocational Rehabilitation at the DNA Building in Hagatna at 475-4626/4635/4637.