Penny Forward

Penny Forward Podcast Episode 24 Try Assistive Technology Before You Buy

July 11, 2021 Chris Peterson Season 1 Episode 24
Penny Forward
Penny Forward Podcast Episode 24 Try Assistive Technology Before You Buy
Show Notes Transcript

This week’s episode of the Penny Forward podcast follows up on our interview with Laurie Schaller in episode 21. In that episode, Laurie talked about low interest assistive technology loans that are available in most states. This week, we talk about ways to try assistive technology before you buy, so you make sure you’re spending your money wisely. Speakers include Byron Lee, Liz Bottner, Bill Boules, Rachel Schroeder, and Amena Thomas. Resources mentioned include: The Blind Life: Bargains Podcasts: STAR Program: Assistive Technology Program: Blind and Low Vision Rehabilitation: Tools: AT3 Center: Of Blind Citizens Assistive Technology Fund: VisionAware: of Vision with Bill Boules: Can Connect: Speaker contact information: Byron Lee: [email protected]Amena Thomas: [email protected] Schroeder: [email protected]Bill Boules: contact form on https://blindrehab.comChris Peterson: [email protected] 

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Announcer: Welcome to the Penny Forward podcast. Penny Forward is a community of people who are blind, their families, and friends who share an interest in financial independence. Visit

To learn more about who we are and what we do. Join us now, as we get to know people like us, who are working toward their own success. Here’s your host, Chris Peterson.


Chris: Good afternoon, good evening, good morning, wherever you may be when you’re listening to this. This is a special episode of the Penny Forward podcast, following up on Episode 21 where we had Laurie Schaller from the National Disability Institute on talking about assistive technology loans. She made a point during that episode that I thought was so important that I decided to have an entire episode on it. And that is, that before you make any kind of assistive technology purchase, whether you’re borrowing money for it or not, you should try it before you buy it and make sure that it really is the right piece of equipment for you. And I think that’s true whether you’re spending $400, $4000, or $40,000, so I brought together a group of assistive technology experts from around the country to talk about that topic specifically. So, let’s introduce them for you. Byron, would you like to start?


Byron: Sure. Absolutely. My name is Byron Lee. I work for the state of Minnesota, specifically in the Senior Service Unit of State Services for the Blind, and I go all around the state, and I help seniors learn how to use that assistive technology. So if you’ve got an iPhone, or an android, or a Windows PC, or a Mac, or whatever it is that it happens to be, either I or my counterpart Jonathan Campbell, will come out to your home or meet you in our office, and we’ll go through all those choices that exist out there, demonstrate some of the technology for you, and if you need help finding funding, we can even help you out with that.


Chris: Awesome. Thank you, Byron. And moving out east, Liz. Liz Botner. Would you like to introduce yourself?


Liz: Hello, Everyone. My name is Liz. I am in Connecticut. I am a blind rehab specialist with the department of Veterans’ Affairs, and it’s a little bit different in terms of their procurement of technology. There’s generally no cost to the veteran, but same things apply; assessment, training, all that happens before, and then, as a team, we decide what would be the best for the particular student, what the goals that he or she is wanting to achieve with the device, and proceed accordingly with training from there.


Chris: Thank you, Liz. Bill, would you like to introduce yourself?


Bill: Yes. So my name is Bill Boules, and for the past two decades, in some capacity, I have been responsible for helping find the right fit for people and their technology. So, whether it be a low vision device or magnification for somebody that has some functional vision, or a braille device and screen reading technology for someone who is either totally blind or does not have enough vision to use magnification, I have been tasked with finding the right fit for people, and try it before you buy it is always a great idea.


Chris: Thank you, Bill. From the state of Illinois, Rachel Schroeder is with us. Hi, Rachel.


Rachel: Hi, Everybody. As he said, I’m Rachel Schroeder, and I’m an assistive technology specialist with the Illinois Assistive Technology Program. We are the Tech Act program for Illinois, and much like Byron, I train people in the assistive technology. Mostly blind and low vision, and, well, now I’m getting back to traveling a little bit. Pandemic kind of took training remote for quite awhile, but I travel throughout the state of Illinois and provide the training, and try before you buy is definitely something that I also believe in.


Chris: Thank you very much, Rachel, for being here. And last and certainly not least, because I think she might have some of the most expertise in this area, is Amena Thomas from the state of Iowa. Welcome, Amena.


Amena: Hi. This is Amena Thomas. I am a rehab technology specialist for the blindness VR agency in Iowa. I help assist in coordinating our loner pool, under my loner pool coordinator. So doing maintenance an things like that, and I also travel the state to provide assessments, technology training, demonstrations, advocacy, and other things of that nature to blind Iowans. Trying different products before you buy, or have a VR agency buy, is THE most important thing. Because you do not want to personally drop four thousand dollars, or have a VR agency drop four thousand dollars, on a device that does not work for your needs. As happens all too often in blindness assistive technology and other assistive technology for people with other disabilities.


Chris: Thanks, Amena. I hope you appreciate the breadth and depth of the guests that we have on today to talk about this. There is a combined total of … I don’t know how I would estimate the years of expertise that are in this room this evening. But I’m pretty awed by it. We’re doing this using the Clubhouse social audio platform, and if you would like to participate in future Penny Forward podcast recordings, not all of them are done on Clubhouse, but we do some. You can follow the Penny Forward club. You can also find out more about Penny Forward on


By liking Penny Forward on Facebook, by joining the Penny Forward Facebook group, and in various other places as well. We have a Penny Forward YouTube channel, and of course the Penny Forward podcast that you’re listening to right now. So please check us out, and if you feel like the work that we’re doing is important work, attached to every Penny Forward podcast episode, no matter where it’s distributed, is a link to our tip jar. Making small donations does help us to continue to pay the rather small expenses that it costs to get this podcast out every week. And we are particularly proud of supporting blind owned businesses like

And Taylor’s Accessibility Services, and even our music is provided by a blind musician, Andre Loui. So when you are supporting us, you’re also supporting those blind businesses as well. All right. Let’s talk more about try before you buy. Bill, maybe you can start us off with, what kinds of programs allow you to do this throughout the country?


Bill: I think all states have an assistive technology program that is responsible for loaning equipment to consumers. You’ve also got the opportunity to check out the exhibit halls at different state and national organizations that are organized by people who are blind. They bring a lot of venders, and a lot of users, into the mix, and there’s tons of presentations, there’s opportunity to put your hands on this type of stuff before you buy it. A lot of it can be looked at from a pricing perspective, you could be looking at the purchase of a used car in many cases. Technology, especially braille technology, especially CCTV technology that may have scan and read capability to it, that stuff is really, really expensive. It can be upward of $3,000 to $3500. And, so, you’ve got lots of opportunities throughout the year, especially now that we’re starting to open up again from the pandemic, there’s plenty of opportunity out there to go and put your hands on something before you buy it. And then obviously, each company, there is a return policy, and it’s usually thirty days. So you have the opportunity to take it for a real test drive before you make a final decision as to whether or not this technology is for you. And as always, doing it with an assistive technology specialist is a great help, ‘cause those folks see that technology all the time. That’s my opinion on it. I think there’s lots of opportunity out there.


Chris: Awesome. And Rachel, what is your opinion about whether people should be excited to buy the latest and greatest in assistive tech? Especially during convention season now where some new stuff is coming out and getting a lot of buzz?


Rachel: Yeah. I think it’s okay to be excited about it. I think what you have to look at, though, also, is, it might be good, but does it really meet *your* needs? And is it possibly going to be abandoned because something that sounded really good at the time and maybe you find out some of the latest and greatest things you might not use as much as you thought? So, you know, everything factors in. You have to really kind of think about, before you start putting the money down, “Okay. Is this something I’m really going to use?” Because you don’t want technology abandonment. Which, that is another component of this whole thing, that is great that we have the option to try before you buy. Because if you don’t do that, then a lot of times, technology can be ill advised, or not be the right fit for somebody and then get abandoned. So, we’ve got a lot of opportunities to check things out and really make sure that the technology is the right fit.


Chris: Byron, talk about the learning curve of some of this stuff. Is it hard to go out and get some of these very expensive pieces of tech, and then really learn how to make use of them?


Byron: It can be. A lot of these pieces of technology have a pretty insane learning curve depending on what you get. However, that shouldn’t scare you because there are state agencies, like Minnesota State Services for the Blind, or many of the other states that have services for the blind that Rachel and Amena and Bill and Liz, the places that they work at, they have people that come out to your home and show you how to use this stuff. So you’re not alone. There’s also a lot of really great material out there on the internet to help you learn how to use this stuff. For example, Sam Sebi has a YouTube channel called The Blind Life. And he reviews a lot of products. So if you’re interested in a CCTV, or an OCR machine, you can probably find a review of it on YouTube. There’s  lots of podcasts out there, such as Blind Bargains Cast, and they talk about what’s coming out, what’s new and exciting, what features those products have, so you can find a lot of material out there on the internet on how to use this stuff. Either in video, audio, or text format.


Chris:  Well thank you, Byron. Amena, you talked about a loner pool that you maintain in Iowa. Tell us a little bit about what that’s like and what kind of equipment might be available through something like that.


Amena: Yeah. So I assist in making sure our loner pool keeps moving. Our loner pool is available to anybody with a VR case open. Of course our IL loan pool is smaller because of funding, but we do have some devices. Independent living is what IL means. But otherwise, if you’re a VR client, or are thinking about becoming a VR client, and decide to put in that application, and get services established, we can provide various demonstrations, loans, things like that to you so that you are able to make the best choice in technology with your counselor. So for example, some of the products we might loan you is a laptop with Fusion, which is magnification screen reading. A laptop with Dancing Dots, a music production software. Multiple different types of braille displays. Different types of CCTV’s. Anything blindness related, we probably have it. WE do try and leverage mainstream technology as best as we can. So like for example, we don’t stock many modern book players simply for the fact that A, not as many people choose to check them out, and B, we find that it’s better to learn iPhone skills, or Android skills, than it is to have a specialized player. Because that is just maintaining another device in your life that is costly and very specialized. So for example, if I were to get a client that needs a braille display, I will loan them maybe a Qbraille XL, a Mantis 240, a Brailliant 20, Brailliant 40, or a Telkis 40. It really depends on your needs, and we’ll typically cycle through a couple braille displays before we decide to make that purchase. We do this because, for example, I have people who love a braille keyboard. But they decide that they want to use it with their Windows machine. Learning those Jaws commands with the Focus is certainly very doable, and I have taught people before, but sometimes it just makes more sense to go with a Qbraille. And without demoing a device and trialing it for a period of time, you don’t have that empowerment to make an educated decision. And when you make an educated decision, that device will work for you in the long term, and won’t get stuck in the corner collecting dust, and basically becoming a poor investment on either VR’s part, or on your part. Because in the end, when VR pays, we are really putting an investment in your employment, we’re putting an investment in you, and the goal is to find a device that’s going to fit your life as best as possible. Because if you have the wrong device, you’re gonna always just regret it and not be as functional as you really could be.


Chris: Well said! Very well said. Byron, on that note, you and I have talked about a closet full of tech that you have at State Services for the Blind there. Where does some of that stuff come from and what kind of stuff is in there? And why is it there?


Byron: I actually wanted to sort of touch a little bit of what Amena said because a lot of people think that they can only get training, or services, or equipment, if they’re working. And, while there are more options for you available if you are seeking employment, there are avenues for those who are retired, those who, for whatever reason, can’t work, State Services for the Blind has a senior services unit. And we have a closet full of equipment that we have gotten donated to us by people who are no longer using that equipment because their vision has changed, or that equipment turned out not to be useful to them, so they’ve donated it to us, and so if someone is in desperate need of a Victor Reader Stream, and they don’t have any other technology, we have things like that in a closet that we can help people obtain. We also have a resources room. In that resources room, there’s a whole plethora of technology that you can get your hands on, and play with in person at SSB, and we also do loan some of that technology out in emergency situations. If you’re working, or you’re at home, and your technology that you normally use has bit the dust and you need something for a short period of time, you can borrow it from our resources room. There’s also programs here in the state of Minnesota like STAR, and that is a technology loaning library, so you can borrow a piece of technology for about five weeks and then mail it back to them. And if it works out, if that technology is useful to you, then you can either buy it yourself or apply for a low interest loan so that you can actually obtain that equipment. So, if you’re in Minnesota, the website for that is

But there are other states that have similar programs. So I think Rachel would be a good person to talk about her program that she works for.


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Chris: Rachel, we’ve heard what things are like in Iowa and Minnesota. How are things the same or different in Illinois?


Rachel: Yeah. Byron just made it really easy on me. Um, … (Laugh.)( We also have, through Illinois Assistive Technology program, a device loan program where you can try a device for five weeks. All you have to do is pay for the return shipping on that. We also have a loans program. Low interest loans, we have a few different kinds of loans that you can get, a credit builder loan, $250 to $1000, to build up credit for the purchase of assistive technology, assistive technology loan, $1001 to $30,000 for the purchase of some sort of assistive technology, which ranges from a lot of different examples of that, as well as home modification loans, up to $500. Our program website for the loans is

And that is available to all residents of Illinois.


Byron: Rachel, I wanted to expand on your program just a little bit, because I was there years and years ago, so things may have changed since I was there, but you guys had a big show room, and one of the funniest things that I remember seeing was a fake bathroom. And in that fake bathroom, someone had taken a hole, and bored it into like a tennis ball and stuck a toothbrush in it, so that if you have a hard time holding something like a toothbrush, something as low tech as a tennis ball is something that may help you have a better quality of life, you know, being able to hold that toothbrush.


Rachel: Absolutely. Yeah. Technology doesn’t have to be high tech. It could be low tech, it could be, you know, like you said, something as simple as something to hold a toothbrush, or hold a pen, or something that would allow you to more easily grab something to work with that. We do have a demo center, which has all these different rooms set up. There’s a bathroom and a kitchen type thing, and rooms with low vision devices, and all that kind of thing. So that people can come in and just take a look at things and try things out while they’re in our demo center as well.


Chris: Well thanks, Byron, and Rachel, for that, and all the links that were thrown out here, I will throw in the show notes as well, so you’ll be able to find them that way. Liz, you mentioned that things are a little bit different for blind veterans. Can you tell us more about that?


Liz: Sure. If you are a veteran, or honorably discharged, and eligible for medical care within the V.A, if you are documented as being legally blind, you are then able to receive blind rehab services. And there’s different types of services, whether it be in patient training, out patient training, and in patient training can take the form of kind of a day program, or residential, but all of that is usually available to you at no cost to yourself as the veteran. And part of that training is in how to use different assistive technology devices. And that is determined by an assessment that you will undergo with a blind rehab specialist, and then you will receive that device usually at no cost to yourself, and then the only cost that you would have is if it is, let’s say, a cell phone, is that you would be responsible for the monthly payments after the initial issuance of the device. But the V.A. would pay for the initial issuance of the device and then you as the veteran would be responsible for the ongoing monthly contract. And each V.A. medical center has what’s called a visual impairment service team coordinator, or Vist, and that is the case manager who is responsible for coordinating any veteran who is blind, who has low vision, not just the blind rehab care, but any care that that blind veteran may need. So helping them set up doctor’s appointments and getting referred to other agencies, inside and even sometimes outside of the V.a. as appropriate. The vist would make the referral for any type of assessment and/or training, and each medical center has a vist. The best website to find more information is


Chris: All right. Well, thank you all.


Amena: Can I give a quick little anecdotal story about a situation I have come across, and the pitfalls of not trying before you buy?


Chris: Sure.


Amena: So, I have a client, and I’m not gonna name names or any identifiable information here. But she was pretty far in life, still working, and has a very rapid visual deterioration. She had a company come out to her to sell her magnification technology. Unfortunately, they never showed her screen reading technology and things like that, and she lost her vision so fast, that she literally only got two or three months out of this device. And now she’s stuck with this four thousand dollar CCTV that she bought out of her own pocket, and it is not functional for her. And by not having the proper assessments and allowing a vender to come in and basically show her the latest and greatest, and convince her that it was gonna solve all her problems, she was forced into a device that ended up just not working for her long term. In the long run, it would have been better for her to learn screen readers such as Jaws, Narrator, or NVDA, and use a piece of technology for optical character recognition. All of that would have been about $2000 less depending on the software purchased. Because a lot of times, it’s very difficult to roll back the clock on those decisions made, as they are big purchases. As a person with a disability, that could very well easily be the biggest purchase you make in your life. And I think the care and time needs to be taken to ensure that you make the right decision, and don’t end up forced into a device that is not gonna work long term.


Chris: Thanks, Amena, I appreciate that. I’m gonna turn it over to Liz now to take questions from the audience.


Liz: The first person we have is Frank.


Frank: Good evening, Everybody. Thank you for letting me come up on stage. So I live in California, and I wanted to find out, do you know if California has this kind of program? Because I think that’s a wonderful thing to allow us to try before we buy so to speak, and I would definitely utilize that if I could, so I just thought I would come out here and ask. Thanks.


Byron: Frank, I just did a quick Google search for “California assistive technology loans,” so I don’t know anything about this program, but it looks like there is a program in California called “Freedom Tech.” And there’s another one called “Ability Tools.” So if you are interested, if your state actually has an assistive technology program, you can do a quick Google, but there’s also another website that I think Liz and I both found, from the Assistive Technology Act Technical Assistance and Training Center, that’s a long name, so their website is

And if you go to their website, there is a page there where you can search for different kinds of programs. You can look to see if they have assistive technology loans, if they have grants, if they have a loaning library or a loaning pool, it doesn’t have every single program in existence. I think Amena was saying that her program was not on this website, but that’s a pretty good start.

Like I said, also just a quick Google search with your state’s name, and “assistive technology loan” will turn up a lot of information.


Amena: So, I can add a little bit to this. Let’s say your vision changes, or your needs change, or your technology is not working as needed. You can, in some circumstances, and actually quite a few, open up a vocational rehabilitation case, and get access to assistive technology and professionals. Because one of the things VR is supposed to be there for is maintaining your employment and keeping that job. So for example, let’s say you’ve been using magnification for 15 years and your vision has slowly decreased to the point where magnification is not working as efficiently, and you’re struggling to keep your job. You can open up a case and work with your rehab agency to find a solution to keep employment. Because VR isn’t just for seeking employment. It’s also there to help retain it.


Frank: So what if I’m in a job now, and I want to change jobs within the company, that might require more assistive technology than what I’m doing now? Is that possible to open up another case like that to …


Bill: Absolutely.


Frank: I mean I’ve been doing my same job for a long time, but I’m thinking of wanting to do something different there, and I know it’s gonna require more technology.


Bill: There’s two ways to go about it. Number 1, you can apply, or make arrangements with your employer to take on other rolls and responsibilities, whether it be a promotion, whether it be a move to another department, and it would be up to their reasonable accommodation process to help you with the purchase of any technology that you might need to cover those new rolls and responsibilities. The other thing that you can do is talk to your California Commission for the Blind, and have them help you make that transition as well. For example, if you’re going to a new location, you might need some orientation and mobility services on top of assistive technology. You know, if it’s gonna be, for example, different hours that you’re working, you may need additional services to help you get to and from work, especially while you’re going through that transition period from one roll to another. There’s a lot of stuff that they can do that doesn’t necessarily involve purchasing equipment for you.


Amena: Let’s say you are a person with a disability working a call center job and that’s not really where you want to be. You have the right to have upward mobility. And VR agencies are charged with helping people seek that work goal. So, for example, I am a rehab technology specialist right now. I want to move into rehab counseling. I can open up a case and set that as my job goal because it’s moving and retooling myself so that I’m able to take on a different job. So that is another way you can be found eligible. There’s all kinds of different ways, and working with your local agency and their case managers, a lot of times, they can find ways to open up a case and make you eligible for services and work with you. Now sometimes, if you make quite a bit of money, there might be some cost sharing involved, but of course, it just depends on your agency, and how things shake out.


Chris: I want to interject something here because I tried to do this recently, and met with some resistance in the state of Minnesota. I think the point that I want to make is, don’t assume that “no” means “no.” Be a little bit persistent about it. If you really need something, and you’re able to justify it, ask again, talk to people like Amena and Bill and Liz and Byron, there’s all kinds of people in the blind community, accessible through Clubhouse and other places, that can tell you what is possible, and also what your rights are, so that you can go back and say, “Well, yeah, I know you said no before, but I’ve been told this. Is this true?” You know, it ain’t easy, but it’s worth it. Another point that Laurie Schaller made in the Penny Forward podcast about assistive technology loans is that statistically, people with disabilities have 28% higher living expenses than people who don’t have disabilities. So just ‘cause you’re making a lot of money doesn’t mean that you’re not costing a lot of money because, like you say, things are expensive.


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Liz: All right. The next person who would like to ask a question is Lolly. So, Lolly, welcome.


Lolly: Thanks, Liz. Byron, I have a question for you. I’m at the point of beginning a transition out of one life chapter, one might say, into the next, and if everything goes as planned, leaving my current job. And one of the things that I want to do, in this next part of my life, is to work on learning the different aspects of audio description, including the editing and the writing and voicing and all of that. It will probably involve technology that I don’t currently have. I fall into that category of “senior,” or I will. I’m really looking at what I might need and how I might be able to get that. Just wondered if you can kind of talk about what might be available to someone in this situation. It’s like essentially starting a second career in a way.


Byron: Sure. Actually, my boyfriend, Chris Snider, is here. And he is an audio description editor, and a voice over artist, and a mixer, he does a lot with audio description. So he may actually be able to answer some of those questions better than I can. I will tell you that from my understanding, audio description does not make a ton of money. There’s just not a lot of money in it. That being said, there are lots of blind people who are involved in writing audio description, or voicing that audio description, or editing it. And so it’s certainly a career path that you could look into checking out.


Amena: I know you asked for Byron’s input, but just because you’re entering what is known as a “senior” age group, you are still able to open a vocational rehabilitation case. Because you’re still seeking employment or a career change. So please do not let your age stop you from opening a case. Because if you can prove that you’re working towards a career goal or something like that, usually you can be found eligible. A lot of different states have small business, or enterprise assistance where they can offer various services, and help you either start that small business or figure out a way to make it work. So please never let your age stop you, because that isn’t a barrier.


Lolly: Thanks, Amena. That’s a really good reminder for me, and for other folks as well. I would just add to this that there are other things I’ll be doing as well as this. So it’s not the money that this is about. It’s the challenge.


Chris S: Well, it’s good that it’s not the money, ‘cause I’ll tell you what, it is not a big money maker. Especially in this day and age where some of the major companies, who shall remain nameless, are insisting on going synthetic and automated despite the quality loss. But, that being said, I will say that when I took on this career, years and years ago, I, like Frank, moved from Phoenix to L.A, I opened a case with the Arizona Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, and managed to get my audio production system at the time funded via rehab. Because I was going to school, and getting training in audio engineering. Then, I also obtained the other equipment that I needed for audio description. The technology has evolved significantly since that time, and my latest generation of equipment I didn’t get that way, but I did start out with that. And I got pro tools. I got a microphone. I got a mac. I got a braille display. And all of that proved to be extremely useful at the time. So it’s definitely a reasonable thing to, as Ameenah said, open up a case, and prove that you’re working toward this, that you’re going through the training, and I hope that helps a little.


Lolly: It does. Thank you very much.


Chris S: Thank you.


Byron: I would kind of like to give some links to some places where one could obtain funding. Because going through your vocational rehab system, or your state Services for the Blind system is not the only way to get money. And this may be a good solution for Frank, or for Lolly. If you’re looking to pay for some of this equipment on your own, there are some loans, but there are some grants as well. So for example, the American Blind Citizens website, and their website is

And we’ll make sure all of these links are in the show notes. They have a grant. They open the window twice a year. We just missed the cut-off for June 30, but December 31 is when the second window closes, and they will pay for half of an assistive technology device, up to $6000. So if you’re looking to get that iPad, or that braille display, or that CCTV, check out

And you can get a grant for half of that assistive technology purchase. So your braille display, that would normally cost you $3000 dollars might only cost you $1400.


Chris: You know, one of the things that I hear, especially from people who are newly blind, is that they don’t know where to find resources. I’m curious to know if any of the other presenters, or anyone in the audience, for that matter, has any other resources that they would like to share along similar lines.


Amena: I think this should be a page. Maybe we should develop a page of resources that are not VR on Penny Forward’s website. Just as a guide. Because so many people struggle to find them.


Chris: I think that’s a brilliant idea.


Bill: So there’s a couple of resources out there. First of all, there’s

Which is a website run by the American Printing House for the Blind. If you go to

Which, I’m being shameless, but the fact is we’ve put a list  of resources out there for things like guide dog schools, if you want to go get a guide dog anywhere in the world, there’s a complete directory of schools on

You also have a list of university training programs if you want to get into the field of blindness and low vision. That includes assistive technology training and stuff like that. So if you want to be an assistive technology trainer, that’s on there, and, you know, we’re trying to build assistive technology resources out there. And so this is a good idea for something to add to

Is to put up a way to obtain, state by state, assistive technology. So, that’s basically all I have, but Vision Aware is a great  resource for stuff like that.


Chris: It is, and so is

And by the way, if you’re interested in a lot of things rehab, Bill does a great podcast called “The Field of Vision,” where he covers rehab related topics, and other topics related to blindness also. It’s a great resource. There’s tons of podcasts out there. I’d love to have a blindness related podcast directory as well, but there is certainly no shame in promoting your own work. Liz, how about anything from you?


Liz: We did have one raised hand. Lolly raised her hand again, so welcome back, Lolly.


Lolly: Thanks. So I had one more question since no one else was raising their hand. We’ve been talking a lot about technology for people who are blind, but I wanted to see if any of you have thoughts, or resources, for folks who have dewel sensory loss.


Bill: There’s a program that is a federal program, it’s called “I Can Connect.” It’s the I Can Connect program, and that provides not only equipment, but training and set-up to people who have duel sensory impairment, and they’ve been around for a very long time, at least ten years or more. And they are probably one of the most under rated programs in the field of blindness and low vision. And so, if you know someone, or if you are someone who has anywhere from mild to moderate hearing loss as well as visual impairment, the I Can Connect program is something that you should definitely be taking advantage of. They are an amazing resource, and again, they don’t just help with the purchase of the technology, but they also help with training in your local area. They have contracts with different trainers around the country that will come out, they’ll set you up, they’ll teach you how to use the equipment, they’ll especially try to make sure that it is the right fit for you, and that’s, again, something that we’ve touched on quite a bit in this podcast. You’re gonna have a ton of information if you listen to this thing from beginning to end. A ton of information on making sure that the technology is right for you and how to best figure that out. And the I Can Connect program for people who are both hearing impaired and vision impaired, that program is just gonna be an amazing resource for you.


Chris: Also, go back and listen to that episode on assistive technology loans. Because those programs are not limited to assistive technology for vision loss. Lori specifically mentioned hearing aids or hearing devices in that episode, but they’re really meant to cover all kinds of disabilities. They certainly would be appropriate for duel sensory accommodations also.


Liz: This is Liz, I just have a clarification. The website for the I Can Connect program is


Chris: All right, well we’re running out of time and we’re running out of questions. So, I think now is the time to wrap things up. And I just want to give everybody an opportunity to give us any last pieces of advice they want to share before we close things down. Byron, shall we start with you?


Byron: Sure. If anyone wants to reach out to me, I do have an e-mail address with the state of Minnesota. That would be

[email protected]


And I would be happy to field any e-mails if you have any questions, if you’d like me to participate in any of your panel discussions for your conventions, anything like that, just go ahead and send me an e-mail. I’ll be happy to help out. And don’t be afraid to really push your state program to help you get that equipment. As we eluded to earlier, they may say “no” for whatever particular reason, but there are advocacy groups out there that will help you with pushing your counselor to get you what you need. So just be persistent, like you said earlier, Chris.


Chris: Liz, any last words from you?


Liz: Just, it’s very, very, very important to, if you can, try the technology that might be helpful before you buy it. Because it may turn out that it’s fantastic and it will help, but it also may turn out that there’s actually something better out there that you don’t know about, but that you can then be shown from a trainer that works better. If you’re getting push-back, you know, “Just take this thing.” No, push for what you know you need and want. Because your success is really what it’s all about.


Chris: Amena, your last thoughts?


Amena: If anybody would like to send me an e-mail and ask questions, specifically about VR, and things like that, in the civilian vocational rehabilitation, feel free. That is

[email protected]

And if you send an email, I will work to respond. Give me a good subject line that gives me an idea of what you’re looking for, and, you know, we can set up a time to talk, and figure something out.


Chris: Awesome. Thank you. And Rachel?


Rachel: Yeah. I would also be happy to give out my email address as well. If anybody has any questions, I 

can be reached at the Illinois Assistive Technology Program, and the email address is

[email protected]

and I’m happy to answer any questions you might have. One thing that wasn’t brought up in this whole try before you buy concept, if you can’t try something before you buy it, or if you don’t have an opportunity to try it, in your research process, go ahead and use that social media option as well. If you are on Facebook groups, ask around and see if anybody’s tried this product and what they think of it. Better yet, though, if you have some people who you trust, who know something about certain products, or certain types of technology, ask them what they use. How they like it. And really get some good feedback as far as, you know, maybe somebody who’s been really putting a piece of technology through the paces, so that you can get a really good opinion of how something might work. Now, it might be a little different from how you might use it or whatever, but if it’s somebody that you trust, then you can really get a good idea of maybe how that’s gonna work for you as well. Take advantage of the device loan programs from your Tech Act programs. They’re there so that you can try this stuff, and be able to make that right decision for that technology that’s going to be used into the ground rather than sitting in that drawer, as Liz says. So thank you for having me.


Chris: Thank you, Rachel, and Bill, you get the last words of anyone here.


Bill: If anybody would like to reach me, there’s a contact form on every single page of

There’s no fancy links that you have to click. All you have to do is just fill out the form, and I tend to respond to people within forty-eight hours. Sometimes it may take longer if I need to research something, but usually within forty-eight hours. And I will tell you that “The Field of Vision’ is here on Clubhouse every Saturday night. We tackle a different topic in the world of living with vision impairment and blindness. We’re also gonna be talking on “The Field of Vision” podcast about social media influencers, like those people in the field that have big names and you see them and hear them all the time. We’ll be talking about when it’s appropriate to listen to them, and when it’s appropriate to not listen to them. And a lot of what we’ve discussed here is gonna be covered on that particular podcast. It will be an honest discussion. It will be an honest podcast. We’ll cover both sides of all topics, and I hope you guys will join us.

Is where it’s at.


Chris: Thank you, Bill, and thank you to all of the guests this week, and everybody who asked questions from the audience as well, and thank you to Clubhouse for providing the technology that makes these kinds of episodes possible. I’m Chris Peterson, host of the Penny Forward podcast and founder of Penny Forward. If you’d like to reach me, you can do that by emailing

[email protected]


Chris: I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s episode of the Penny Forward podcast. Join us again for other things like this, and some not so much like this. Again, if you appreciate the work that we’re doing, please find that tip jar link attached to every episode of the “Penny Forward” podcast, no matter where it’s distributed, and help us keep this going. And finally, I’d like to thank Liz Botner for helping us moderate in Clubhouse this evening. It makes it much easier for me to do a podcast recording with Liz’s help. I very much appreciate it, and I want her to know how much. Thanks again, Everybody. Good night.


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