A few weeks ago, iCanConnect caught my eye. As detailed in this AP article, iCanConnect is a pilot program that “provides low-income deaf-blind individuals with the most up-to-date telecommunications devices for free and special training to use them.” Individuals apply to the program and are then assessed for which devices and technologies would best suit their needs. iCanConnect participants enthused about being able to shop online, join Facebook and email friends and family, all for the first time in their lives. Due to iCanConnect’s initial success in the first half of its three-year run, program coordinators are looking to reach beyond the deaf-blind community to individuals who are experiencing age-related vision and hearing impairment.
It’s amazing how efficient targeted use of technology can lead to tremendous progress. I witnessed this firsthand when I visited school for blind children in New Delhi, India with the National Association for the Blind. Telecommunications gives blind people a great advantage as they can get access to important information no matter where they are using wireless technologies. They can also process voice much quicker because of visual impairments. I watched how they used smartphones to receive and send SMS and email messages, and dash off a quick timely reply. They could speedily dial phone numbers of family and friends. Observing these students reaffirmed to me that with the right technology in hand, barriers can be lifted. But knowing that the greater needs in these communities are more basic, such as having ready access to textbooks in Braille, impressed upon me that technology can only do so much. It’s knowledge, not technology, which is most powerful in any situation.
I support various non-profit organizations that benefit the blind and their education because my father lost an eye to glaucoma when I was growing up. I didn’t know much about the disease at the time. But as I read more, I realized glaucoma was largely preventable. Many of the afflicted lose their vision due to glaucoma because they don’t have easy access to a clinic where they can be correctly diagnosed, or they simply do not know that they have such a sense-threatening disease. You’ve read on this blog how telemedicine, enabled through Cambium technology, has enabled mobile healthcare. If these mobile units were deployed on a wider scale to rural areas or smaller cities that lack high-quality medical care, they would only be useful if people know what symptoms to look for regarding their own health that would propel them to seek medical care.
At Cambium, we look not only to provide high-quality, reliable Internet access to developing communities, but also to ensure that these communities have the basic building blocks of knowledge and infrastructure to be able to effectively use the Internet. In future blog posts, we’ll share our best practices for ensuring that a community is network-ready, and what factors we’ve learned to look for in this process. It is our hope that sharing these experiences will be useful to other technology providers aiming to reach new markets and expand the utility of their breakthroughs – together, we can Connect the Unconnected.