Public Input Sought on Removing Barriers to Voting for People with Disabilities

From the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

Accessible Voting System in MaineWASHINGTON – June 16, 2021 – The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has released for public comment a request for information (RFI) to remove barriers to voting for people with disabilities. The RFI is in response to Executive Order (EO) 14019 on Promoting Access to Voting. The public comments will inform NIST’s December 2021 report that will offer recommendations on how to overcome barriers that these voters with disabilities experience.

NIST will evaluate the steps needed to ensure that the online Federal Voter Registration Form is accessible to people with disabilities. NIST, in consultation with the Department of Justice, the Election Assistance Commission, and other agencies, will also analyze barriers to private and independent voting for people with disabilities, including access to voter registration, voting technology, voting by mail, polling locations, and poll worker training.

Public comments are due July 16, 2021. Comments may be submitted at www.regulations.gov by searching for NIST-2021-0003 or by email at pva-eo@list.nist.gov.

Complete instructions for comment submission can be found in the RFI.

Apple previews new innovative Access Features

Apple accessibility features screen shotOn May 19th in conjunction with Global Accessibility Awareness Day, Apple, Inc. announced a number of new and innovative Access Features for their product line that will be rolled out in the coming months. Included among these were Assistive Touch on Apple Watch, on-demand, one-on-one sign language services in Apple stores, and updates to link apple products with individuals hearing aids.

Some of these new services are available now and others will be rolled out over the coming year.

For More Information

Use this link to the May 19th press release: Apple previews powerful software updates designed for people with disabilities…

FCC Launches Emergency Broadband Benefit Program on May 12

FCC logoThe Emergency Broadband Benefit is a Federal Communication Commission (FCC) program to help families and households struggling to afford internet service during the COVID-19 pandemic. This new benefit will connect eligible households to jobs, critical healthcare services, virtual classrooms, and more.

The FCC has announced that eligible households can apply for the program starting May 12, 2021 in three ways:

  1. Contact your preferred participating broadband provider directly to learn about their application process, or use the FCC’s online tool to find a participating company near you. Participating companies can help you apply through the National Verifier or through their company’s application process.
  2. Go to GetEmergencyBroadband.org to apply online and to find participating providers near you.
  3. Call 833-511-0311 for a mail-in application, and return it along with proof of eligibility to: Emergency Broadband Support Center, P.O. Box 7081, London, KY 40742.

Individuals who use videophones and are fluent in American Sign Language (ASL) may call the FCC’s ASL Consumer Support Line at (844) 432-2275 (videophone).

Enrollment for the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program will end when the fund runs out of money, or six months after the Department of Health and Human Services declares an end to the COVID-19 health emergency, whichever is sooner. Therefore, Mainers should also be aware of the FCC’s Lifeline Program, a permanent federal program that offers a monthly benefit of up to $9.25 towards phone or internet services for eligible subscribers (up to $34.25 for those living on Tribal/Native lands). Please use this link for more information about the Lifeline Program…

 

Emergency Broadband Benefit Program Update

FCC logoThe Emergency Broadband Benefit Program is a new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) program that provides a temporary discount on monthly broadband bills for qualifying low-income households. If your household is eligible, you can receive:

  • Up to a $50/month discount on your broadband service and associated equipment rentals
  • Up to a $75/month discount if your household is on qualifying Tribal lands
  • A one-time discount of up to $100 for a laptop, tablet, or desktop computer (with a co-payment of more than $10 but less than $50)
  • Only one monthly service discount and one device discount is allowed per household.

The FCC expects enrollment for the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program to open within the next few weeks. It will end when the fund runs out of money, or six months after the Department of Health and Human Services declares an end to the COVID-19 health emergency, whichever is sooner.

A new website – getemergencybroadband.org – provides all of the information needed to apply including:

Mainers should also be aware of the FCC’s Lifeline Program, a permanent federal program that offers a monthly benefit of up to $9.25 towards phone or internet services for eligible subscribers (up to $34.25 for those living on Tribal/Native lands). Please use this link for more information about the Lifeline Program…

 

Brain Injury Needs Assessment Survey

The Brain Injury Association of America’s Maine Chapter, under contract with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (“the Department”), has engaged Koné Consulting to conduct a Needs Assessment of MaineCare funded brain injury services and supports, to include all other public and privately sourced funding opportunities.

They have developed two online surveys; 1) to gather input from people with brain injury, their family members, caregivers, and, 2) to gather input from service providers.  This is an opportunity to share experiences  that will provide needed insight for the Department’s direction of efforts to strengthen Maine’s system of brain injury services and supports.

Survey #1 for people with brain injury, their caregivers and family

Please use this link to access the survey for people with brain injury, their caregivers and family. It should take approximately 30 minutes and includes an opportunity to enter a random drawing for a $100 Visa gift card.

Survey #2 for service providers and other interested parties

Please use this link to access the survey for service providers and other interested parties. It should take approximately 20 minutes.

 

We ask for completion of the survey by Wednesday, April 28, 2021

If you need to request a paper survey or seek support in assisting groups of people in completing this survey, please contact Karin Ellis at Karin.ellis@koneconsulting.com

If you have other questions about this survey, please contact Sarah Jordan at BIAA-ME – sjordan@biausa.org

Please stay tuned for focus groups, which will be the next step in this process.

 

Independent Living OIB-TAC launches national public awareness campaign

Time To Be Bold is a national public service awareness campaign through the Independent Living Older Individuals who are Blind Technical Assistance Center (OIB-TAC) at the National Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision. The OIB-TAC and this campaign are funded by the Dept. of Education Rehabilitation Services Administration, which also funds services and training for individuals with visual impairments, including vocational rehabilitation (VR) and the Independent Living Older Individuals who are Blind (OIB) programs nationally.

The Time To Be Bold campaign is designed to educate, engage and empower people who are 55+ with low vision to maintain/regain their independence by utilizing the free or low-cost services provided by the RSA-funded OIB programs.

  • Over 3 million Americans 55 and older have difficulty seeing even when wearing glasses.
  • Almost 1 in 10 individuals age 75 or older reports difficulty seeing, even when wearing glasses.
  • Each U.S. state and territory offers free or low-cost services to help individuals adjust to vision loss.
  • It is estimated that less than 5% of individuals with vision loss, who are eligible for services seek them each year.
  • It can be challenging to find services, which is one major reason we created this campaign.

Go to timetobebold.org for a list of free or low-cost services in your state that will give you the tools, technology, training, and support you need to live your bold, best life.

UMaine faculty talk about assistive tech on national podcast

autonomous transporterUniversity of Maine researchers and faculty members, Nicholas Giudice and Richard Corey were recent guests on Assistive Technology Update, “a weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist individuals with disabilities and special needs.” The host of the show, Josh Anderson, is with the INDATA project at Easterseals Crossroads in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Giudice and Corey are co-founders of the  Virtual Environments and Multimodal Interaction Laboratory (VEMI Lab) at the University of Maine and recently were awarded a $300,000 grant from US Department of Transportation.  VEMI plans to develop a smartphone app that will provide the navigational assistance needed for people with disabilities and seniors to enjoy ride-sharing and ride-hailing, collectively termed mobility-as-a-service. The app, known as the Autonomous Vehicle Assistant (AVA), can also be used for standard vehicles operated by human drivers and enjoyed by everyone.

On the podcast, broadcast on March 26, 2021, Giudice and Corey discuss the grant competition and how the AVA app could  allow people with disabilities and seniors to achieve greater independent in transportation. Some of the challenges of the autonomous vehicle technology are also discussed.

 

FEMA Provides Vaccine Resources and Information for People with Disabilities

Tablet showing the definition of the word "access"The Biden Administration has tasked the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) with managing set-up and operations for Community Vaccination Centers across the country. With other federal agencies, FEMA established a Civil Rights Advisory Group that developed a Civil Rights Checklist – PDF and Best Practice Information – PDF resource to provide states, territories, and tribes a list of civil rights considerations and resources to ensure equitable vaccine access.

“It is essential that people with disabilities have equitable vaccine access,” U.S. Access Board Executive Director Sachin Dev Pavithran remarked. “This means ensuring that strategies are developed and implemented with the integration of the needs of people with disabilities into the design of accessibility to the vaccine. I commend FEMA for making the necessary efforts in continuing to make the vaccine more accessible for people with disabilities.”

FEMA provides live on-demand American Sign Language interpreters at all federally supported community vaccination centers during each center’s hours of operation. FEMA also has civil rights and disability integration advisors in each of its 10 regions to advise state, local, tribal, and territorial governments, and other partners, ensuring the needs of people with disabilities are integrated in all facets of vaccination center operations.  For further details on your region’s Disability Integration Specialist, contact FEMA at FEMA-Disability-Integration-Coordination@fema.dhs.gov

More information about vaccine supportequitable vaccine access, and ASL videos can be found on FEMA’s website. Find vaccine updates in your community and more information from your local health department. You can also find a list of places where adults can get a vaccine.

Maine Partners with T-Mobile to Provide Increased Internet Access to Maine Students

From the Maine Department of Education

HelpThe Maine Department of Education has partnered with T-Mobile to expand efforts to provide internet access and devices to Maine students through their Project 10Million initiative. If they choose to participate, the program provides mobile Wi-Fi hotspot devices directly to school districts for student use.

“We are thrilled to partner with T-Mobile to continue providing opportunities that allow Maine students to stay connected to their teachers, peers, and school communities,” said Maine Commissioner of Education Pender Makin. “The partnership helps to expand our own Connect Kids Now! initiative which supports Maine schools by providing internet connectivity through the pandemic.”

The Connect Kids Now! initiative began in the spring of 2020 at the onset of the pandemic when it became abundantly clear that technology resources were critical in closing the equity of access gap for continued learning for Maine students. In line with this these efforts, T-Mobile’s Project 10Million initiative provides the opportunity for districts in Maine to participate by signing up and choosing from three tiers of service which they can pass on to students at no cost: up to 100GB per year per device for free, or low-cost options for 100GB per month or unlimited data. Part of the commitment of the partnership will be to provide additional devices from T-Mobile over the next five years. T-Mobile will distribute these devices directly to districts and all student households with at least one student participating in the National School Lunch Program are eligible for the program. The Maine DOE will look to include districts based on economic factors such as Title 1 schools, National School Lunch Program eligibility rates, and distressed county designations. Districts can complete an online interest form to participate in the program.

“Partnering with the Maine DOE helps us identify districts and students that will benefit most from Project 10Million and get them the devices and connectivity required to fully participate in school,” said Mike Katz, executive vice president of T-Mobile for Business. “We are grateful to be a part of the solution that Commissioner Makin and her team have put in place to make sure ALL students can access the resources they need to succeed.”

 

Emergency Broadband Benefit Program Available to Eligible Families in April

From the Maine Department of Education

Neon sign with the words Hi Speed InternetThe Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently adopted a “Report and Order” that established the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, a $3.2 billion federal initiative to help lower the cost of high-speed internet for eligible households during the on-going COVID-19 pandemic.

Benefits of the program include:

  • Up to $50/month discount for broadband services;
  • Up to $75/month discount for broadband services for households on Tribal lands; and
  • A one-time discount of up to $100 for a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet purchased through a participating provider.
  • The Emergency Broadband Benefit is limited to one monthly service discount and one device discount per eligible household.

A household is eligible if one member of the household:

  • Qualifies for the Lifeline program, including those who are on Medicaid or receive SNAP benefits;
  • Receives benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision, or did so in the 2019- 2020 school year;
  • Experienced a substantial loss of income since February 29, 2020, and the household had a total income in 2020 below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers;
  • Received a Federal Pell Grant in the current award year; or
  • Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income or COVID-19 program.

The FCC expects the Emergency Broadband Benefit program to be open to eligible households before the end of April, 2021. Please check the FCC’s website regularly for the latest information. Once up and running, eligible households will be able to enroll through participating broadband providers or directly with the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC).

Many types of broadband providers can qualify to provide service in this program. The FCC is currently setting up the systems needed for providers to participate. Contact information for the providers participating in the program will be posted on USAC’s website.

For more information, the Report and Order along with the rules governing this program can be found at this link…