2017-02-16 / News

Options may be available for disabled citizens

810-452-2645 • tterry@mihomepaper.com

BURTON — Believe it or not, every landline and cellular phone you have is being billed more than $3 per bill in surcharges intended to promote universal access to telecommunications services.

Despite the money collected with through these charges, some people with disabilities do not have the ability to use the government phones they need because Michigan is one of only three states that does not have an equipment distribution program to provide for their needs. It would not necessarily cost residents any additional money to get one implemented.

“It just takes one person to be our champion and help give everyone an accessible phone,” said Carrie Dudek, assistive technology professional for the Disability Network.

Dudek addressed the issue at 50th District State Representative Tim Sneller’s first coffee hour, Feb. 3, at Scotti’s Coney Island.

“It is extremely likely with the aging population that people have a parent or grandparent that doesn’t hear as well and has a low income,” said Dudek. “So, their loved ones are eligible for a government phone but can’t use them.”

If an equipment center was created for government phones to be made accessible for the hearing impaired, the phones would be made like iPhones. There would be increased volume and a background noise cancellation feature. The phone could sync itself to find the decibel of hearing aids. The user could even utilize settings on their phone to turn on captions, including captions for voice mail, if needed.

Although some hearing-impaired individuals have these types of phones in Michigan currently, they may be having a hard time paying for them.

“One of our consumers at The Disability Network, EarlieB, has been pretty vocal about it,” said Dudek. “He doesn’t have a job. He’s very low income. He has hearing aids. He got a phone similar to an Android that is hearing compatible, but he pays $50 for his cell phone and data. For someone with a low income, strictly from Social Security, it’s a major expense. It’s not fair.”

For individuals who are visually impaired, the most accessible phone is also the iPhone. So, states who have a distribution phone give the individuals iPhones. The phone users can go into their settings and utilize magnifier and zoom features. Phones have larger text, which can also be bolded. Various contrast can be used as needed, such as a yellow and black contrast. Blind individuals need voice activated phones.

James Moore, who is legally blind, said he would like to see government phones become more accessible to those with disabilities.

“Even though some of us have a disability, we’re part of this country,” Moore said. “If everyone else is able to get one, we should be able to get one, too.”

Moore said his economic situation is not as bad as that of some other people with disabilities because he lives with his brother. He does have a phone that is voice activated and tells him what numbers he pushes. However, he is forced to pay for it himself with an income of $925 a month from Social Security.

“I wish it was better,” Moore said.

Phones can also be made accessible for those with physical disabilities, such as quadriplegia, which make it hard to hold the phone. These phones are also voice activated, and depending on the environment, the disabled user may use a headset.

The surcharges being charged include $1.50 for the Federal Universal Service charge and $1.66 for the Michigan State Telecommunications Surcharge.

Sneller said after the coffee hour he believes in equal opportunity and that he is very interested in the accessible government cell phone issue being discussed at state level. He welcomed the opportunity to visit the Disability Network, and has contacted Mike Zelley, the organization’s president. He also said he plans to involve other state representatives.

“We’ve identified the problem, now we need to come up with a solution,” Sneller said.

In 2015, out of the 29,207 people living in Burton, 1,280 people were living with a hearing disability, 693 had a vision disability and another 7,947 people identified themselves as having a disability. These individuals may or may not need accessible phones.

In the state of Michigan, Perkins School for the Blind, located in Massachusetts, is responsible for the iCanConnect program, but only helps provide accessible phones to those that have significant combined hearing and vision loss. So, they service a much smaller population.

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