Over the last few months, 45-year-old Jim Duncan of Washington D.C. has been able to sit down at his computer and compile email messages - something that he hasn't been able to do in a long time.
Jim regularly sends emails to all of his family and friends scattered all across the country thanks to the technology he received through the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program, known as iCanConnect, which provides equipment and training to people with significant combined hearing and vision loss who meet income eligibility guidelines.
As a teenager, Jim lost his vision after receiving radiation therapy treatment for sinus cancer. His blindness forced him to give up his online presence in a world that is centered on technology, social media and the Internet.
In the months since he received a laptop computer with three accessibility software programs (JAWS, Kurzweil and Magic), a scanner and an iPhone, Jim says his life has completely changed. Once again, he’s able to go online.
Since he underwent training on the devices, Jim, who also has significant hearing loss and wears two hearing aids, says he has been able to regain his independence, which has been monumental.
“This is really a program that can change people's lives,” Jim said. “It’s just so nice to have the luxury of opening my own e-mail. I can pay my own bills online rather than have a friend log on for me and pay my bills.”
For the past four years, Jim had given up trying to log onto his Facebook account. He even had to stop checking his AOL account as it became too cumbersome.
“I had no way of using Facebook,” he said. “All I had was Zoom Text, and that certainly was not close to being adequate.”
The first time he was able to log back onto social media with his new software, he was flooded with a stream of friend requests that had been sent and never acted upon. Once again, he can chat online with friends. He hopes to be able to start up his blog, which he had stopped updating.
“With the screen reader, it’s so much more effective, so much more efficient; it's rather intuitive,” Jim said. “It's just very nice to be able to get back into that again. I'm really happy about being able to reconnect with people like that.”
Through his laptop, Jim is also now able to keep in more regular touch with two very important people – his parents.
“I hadn't been able to do that,” he said. “It's opened up new doors and windows for me.”