ATK council discusses plans to increase communication technology across Kansas

The Assistive Technology for Kansans Advisory Council, learned about initiatives to increase communication and technology access across the state on March 23 during the council’s spring meeting.  

The council includes more than 25 people with disabilities who use assistive technology statewide and representatives from several State of Kansas agencies. It provides guidance to staff who operate the Assistive Technology for Kansans (ATK) program at the Life Span Institute, which supports Kansans with disabilities and health conditions of all ages who would benefit from assistive technology. ATK Services include device demonstration, short-term equipment loans, and assistance obtaining new or used devices.   

Council members heard updates on a few of the programs across the state to increase communication access for eligible Kansans.  

The group learned that the 21st Century Assistive Technology Act, which reauthorized the Assistive Technology Act of 2004, will continue the program across the United States and fund the continuum of assistive technology services and collaboration with State agencies and other state partners to provide equitable access to technology for all people with disabilities. 

The iCanConnect Kansas Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Project received continued funding for the next five years to provide equipment and software to eligible Kansans who have hearing and vision loss. 

Twenty-six individuals between the ages of 16 and 97 years benefitted from iCanConnect from July to December 2022. While small, the program’s impact on individual lives can be huge by reducing social isolation and keeping individuals connected to family, friends and professionals outside the home.  

Changes to the Kansas Telecommunications Access Program (TAP) — which distributes specialized telephones and other telecommunications devices to Kansans with disabilities who can’t use traditional home telephones or cellular phones — included discussions about increasing the eligible  reimbursement costs for devices, and adding devices such as Pixel 6a smart phone and Square Glow signaler to the programs inventory. 

ATK has started promoting accessibility options under TAP for Spanish-language speakers in Kansas over the last quarter and is beginning to see some response.   

The meeting also discussed a national concern for individuals using internet-based accessibility devices, such as ones distributed by TAP. Officials are working toward addressing the problem that these devices would not be able to contact emergency services during or after a natural disaster.  

Kimberlyn Jones, digital equity manager for the Kansas Office of Broadband Development addressed work to ensure internet access to all Kansas with both affordable and reliable broadband as part of the Digital Equity Act.  

One challenge for the state is to determine the accuracy of documented households with internet access, which may be overreported, ultimately impacting federal funding to expand services.  To obtain a more accurate map, the Kansas Office of Broadband Development has asked residents in the state to “challenge the map” by entering their home address and verifying each point of access is correct at the FCC National Broadband Map website.   

T-Mobile representatives in attendance shared the company’s mission under Project 10 Million to provide high-speed internet access, providing services and devices to eligible students for free or at low cost through their school administrator.  

For more information about ATK or the programs visit the program’s website.