Deaf and Disabled Telecommunications Program 

Telecommunications Access for the Deaf and Disabled 

Administrative Committee (TADDAC) 

And the  

Equipment Program Advisory Committee (EPAC) 

 

October 26, 2011

10:00 AM to 4:00 PM

Richmond Elks Lodge

3931 San Pablo Dam Road, El Sobrante, CA 94803

 

 

The Telecommunications Access for the Deaf and Disabled Administrative Committee (TADDAC) and the Equipment Program Advisory Committee held a joint meeting at the Richmond Elks Lodge in El Sobrante, California.  TADDAC Chair, Kathleen Barrett, called the meeting to order at 10:10 AM.

 

TADDAC Members Present: 

Kathleen Barrett, Disabled Community Mobility-Impaired Seat, Chair

Nancy Hammons, Late-Deafened Community Seat, Vice Chair

Alik Lee, Division of Ratepayer Advocates Seat

Tommy Leung, Disabled Community- Blind/Low Vision Seat

Jax Levesque, Deaf Community Seat

Colette Noble, Hard of Hearing Community Seat

Kevin Siemens, Disabled Community - Speech-to-Speech User Seat

 

TADDAC Members Absent: 

Chriz Dally, Deaf Community Seat

 

EPAC Members Present: 

Mussie Gebre, Proxy for Bapin Bhattacharyya, Disabled Community, Deaf-Blind Seat

Loretta Moore, Disabled Community, Blind Seat

Richard Ray, Deaf Community Seat

Kenneth Rothschild, Deaf Community Seat, Vice Chair and Forum Moderator

Ann Ruth, Mobility Impaired Seat, Chair

 

EPAC Members Absent: 

Bapin Bhattacharyya, Disabled Community, Deaf-Blind Seat

Brian Winic, Hard of Hearing Community Seat

 

Non-Voting Liaisons Present: 

Shelley Bergum, CCAF Chief Executive Officer     

Linda Gustafson, CPUC Communications Division

 

CCAF Staff Present: 

Sharon Albert, Director of Operations

Margie Cooper, CRS Contract Specialist

Patsy Emerson, Interim Committee Coordinator

Jen Minore, Northern California Field Operations Manager

Peggy Padua, Committee Assistant

Angela Shaw, Southern California Field Operations Manager

David Weiss, CRS Relay Services Department Manager

TingTing Zhou, Outreach Specialist

 

CPUC Staff Present: 

Tyrone Chin, Communications Division

Christopher Chow, Communications Division

Jonathan Lakritz, Branch Manager, Communications Division

Penney Legakis, Communications Division

Jack Leutza, Director, Communications Division

 

Guest Panelists and Presenters Present: 

Sgt. Major Jesse Acosta, USMC Ret.

Dr. Garnette Cotton, VA Health Administration, Telehealth

Louie Herrera, Disability Rights Activist

Royce Johnson, Communication Services for the Deaf

Norbie Lara, Wounded Warriors Project Spokesperson

Michael Magpusao, Project Hire, Wounded Warrior Workforce Program

Michael Patton, Disabled Veteran Business Alliance

Roberto Rocha, Disabled American Veterans, Alameda County Department of Veterans Affairs

Mary Ellen Salzano, CA Statewide Collaborative for Our Military & Families

Wendy Van Houten, Army OneSource

 

Others Guests Present: 

Sook Hee Choi, Attendant to Mussie Gebre

Myron Clifton, CSD

John Garrett, Attendant to Loretta Moore

Anne Girard, Hamilton Relay

Kevin Graves, CalVet

Otis Hopkins, Attendant to Tommy Leung

Edward Kinal, Hamilton Relay

Jared Lazar, POTHOS

Jerry Nazaretta, Project Hired

Bob Ostini, Richmond Elks Lodge Exalted Ruler

Brian Pease, Attendant/Revoicer to Kevin Siemens

Peggy Rowan, Attendant to Ann Ruth

Beth Slough, Hamilton Relay

Richard Uzuanis, Americans for Better Hearing Foundation

Judi Victor, Hamilton CapTel

Ileana Winterhalter, AT&T

 

 

  1. Welcome and Introduction of TADDAC and EPAC Members 

 

          Shelley Bergum introduced the committee Chairs, Kathleen Barrett and Ann Ruth. Ann introduced Linda Gustafson of the CPUC who then introduced CPUC staff members Jack Leutza, Jonathan Lakritz, Penney Legakis and Tyrone Chin. The committee members then introduced themselves.

 

II. Presentation by California Telephone Access Program Outreach Specialist 

 

          TingTing Zhou gave a brief presentation on the California Telephone Access Program (CTAP) which included a short history of the program, its purpose, the communities it serves, and how it operates. TingTing also presented a sampling of some of the phones and devices the program distributes and described their functions and the types of disabilities each device is suitable for. TingTing then fielded questions from the audience and reminded everyone that CTAP had an audiologist on site and would be conducting free hearing tests and distributing free phones while the forum was taking place.

 

III. Welcome and Introduction of Veterans Forum Panel and Discussion 

          EPAC Chair Ann Ruth introduced Kenneth Rothschild as moderator of the Veterans Forum and Ken asked the panelists to introduce themselves and to say a few words about the organizations they represented.

           Sgt. Major Jesse Acosta described himself as a veteran and said that he was representing himself.

          Louie Herrera spoke of his background in engineering and computer science and the work he has done with companies who hire the disabled, in particular returning veterans who need help with assistive technology. Louie is also a member of the Emergency Access Advisory Committee which advises the FCC on the recently enacted 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act.

          Wendy Van Houten introduced herself as a representative of Army OneSource working with service members and their families, including survivor family members, to connect them with community based organizations and the services they need to fully participate in their communities.

           Norbie Lara described his work as a spokesperson for the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit organization that provides free programs to service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan that help them transition from military life to civilian life.

          Michael Patton introduced himself as a Navy veteran and owner of Pothos, a subcontractor of Hamilton Relay, and as a member of the corporate advisory board for the California Disabled Veteran Business Alliance (CDVBA).

          Mary Ellen Salzano introduced herself as the founder of the California Statewide Collaborative for Our Military and Families, a grassroots organization that provides a forum to share information and education, raise awareness, focus outreach, and promote strategic partnerships that will streamline and improve access to health and human services for service members and their families.

          Michael Magpusao introduced himself as an Army veteran representing Project Hire, a nonprofit organization that assists job seekers with disabilities find placement with Project Hire’s extensive client base. They contract with V.A. centers throughout California and two of the programs they manage are the Wounded Warrior Workforce Program and a service dog program, both of which deal specifically with veterans.

          Roberto Rocha introduced himself as a representative of the Alameda County Veterans Affairs Commission and as a member of Disabled American Veterans. Roberto has many years experience serving on various boards and commissions that provide services to veterans and that advise state and federal agencies that serve the military.

          Lastly, Dr. Garnette Cotton introduced herself as a representative of the Northern California branch of Veterans Health Affairs, a branch of the Veterans Administration which provides medical services for returning veterans. Dr. Cotton works specifically with the new Telehealth Program which uses clinical video links to bring comprehensive and chronic medical care into veterans’ homes and home communities.

          Ken asked the panelists to rate how important having access to a telephone is to veterans, on a scale of one to ten, ten being most important. Norbie Lara responded by saying that the biggest obstacle to telephone access that he sees among the new generation of veterans is that they don’t even have land lines anymore. They are using cell phones and newer devices than those that are provided by CTAP, so our phones are useless for them. Dr. Cotton agreed with Norbie’s comments and added that the technology used by the V.A.’s Telehealth system is supported by one’s mobile phone and is crucial to tracking chronic health problems. However, there are still veterans who live in extremely rural areas where mobile phone coverage, either broadband or satellite, is sketchy at best, and this makes it impossible for the V.A. to offer them the Telehealth service. Roberto Rocha remarked that it’s not just in rural areas where there are problems with reception, as urban areas can have problems with radio frequency interference, microwaves, or even tall buildings blocking signals. Louie Herrera agreed that the younger generation wants to stay connected and on top of all the advances in technology. However, when young veterans who are accustomed to using a cell phone are suddenly left without their sight, or hearing or mobility, they will be very frustrated trying to use their old phone. It will be inaccessible to them. Louie also noted inconsistencies in cell phone design and functionality and suggested that certain standards be implemented, such as certain keys always being in the same place or marked in the same way. Michael Magpusao also supported Norbie’s comments, but added that he’s a third generation Army veteran and that his grandfather and father won’t even try the new technology, so we can’t just cut out land lines all together or we will leave a whole segment of the population disconnected.

          Ken next asked Sgt. Major Jesse Acosta, who is blind, if he had ever heard of the DDTP and the services they offer before being asked to sit on the panel today. Jesse prefaced his response by saying that although he is not a member of any of the organizations represented on the panel, he considers himself a representative of the blind and deaf and has stood before Congress to advocate for persons with disabilities. Jesse had heard of the DDTP before today through the V.A., but felt that the devices the DDTP and the State of California had to offer him as a returning disabled vet were a slap in the face, inaccessible, and did not meet his needs. Jesse also expressed his frustration with what he sees as a lack of education of V.A. and DDTP customer service personnel who were unable to answer his questions about the services he was seeking.

           Ken then asked Committee members Loretta Moore and Tommy Leung, both of whom are blind, to respond to Jesse’s comments.  Loretta supported Jesse’s remarks and added that even if she did receive a telephone device in the mail that might meet her needs, if the instructions were not in an alternative format, it would be useless to her. If she were unable to set the phone up herself without the help of a sighted person, she would not have the autonomy and independence that people with disabilities want. Loretta went on to say that she thinks society as a whole is starting to consider the perspectives of disabled persons and move in a more inclusive direction, but there is still a lot of work to do.  Tommy agreed with both Jesse and Loretta and added that these problems are not just endemic to government programs, but are in the business world as well. Businesses don’t respond to the needs of the disabled unless people complain loudly and long enough because meeting their needs eats into their profit margin. Tommy also said that he was unable to program the Panasonic phone he got through the Program without sighted assistance and repeated a request he has made many times that the instructions be posted on the DDTP website in HTML format or searchable text. He also agreed that things are moving forward societally but that the wireless Program must also move forward as this is where technology is taking us. Tommy turned back to the panelists and asked them which of the wireless devices that they have used have best met their needs.

          Jesse answered that although he may be a special case because of the multiple traumas he has suffered (Traumatic Brain Injury, PTSD, loss of his eyes), he has found the Apple products to be the most accessible. He said that he has been able to use them “right out of the box” and wonders why other manufacturers aren’t devoting more resources to make equally accessible products. Louie Herrera, who is also blind, confessed to being a technology junkie and said that he had tested many phones for manufacturers and the federal government. Many of them worked, but only with third party accessories, and then unreliably. He held out his Samsung Haven phone and gave a brief demonstration of its many built-in capabilities and said that, although he doesn’t like it very much, this phone works for him. Louie has also tried the iPhone which has a lot of functionality, but its one button and flat screen didn’t work well for him. He emphasized that there is a lot of technology out there, much of which can be embedded in a phone to provide universal access, but at this point no one phone meets everyone’s needs. However, Louie said that his cell phone is a necessary tool that enables him to be independent and remain in touch with the world.

          Ken asked Loretta to describe some of the work she does providing training for wireless phone use for people who are blind. Loretta, who heads the employment department at the San Diego Center for the Blind, echoed Louie’s remark that a cell phone is a necessity for a blind person, especially for young veterans who are anxious to return to civilian life. She hears the needs and wants of these blind individuals every day and so has been working diligently in her role on EPAC to ensure that the distribution of cell phones appropriate to this community becomes a reality for the Program. Loretta reminded all present that the CPUC was present and listening to what was being said today, and that they know that if they don’t keep up with technological developments, the disabled communities will be left behind.

          Mary Ellen Salzano said she would like to hear from the rest of the panelists as to whether they were aware of the CTAP and DDTP programs before being invited to participate in the forum today. Roberto Rocha said that he had been aware of the program for several years through his work with the Social Security Administration (SSA). In his role as manager of a department he was charged with overseeing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and had to provide reasonable accommodation for some of his employees with disabilities. He found that the SSA was the biggest violator in the country and was not providing adaptive equipment or even documents in Braille for their employees. This is when he learned of the DDTP and the various products and services they offered.

          Mary Ellen stated that she had just found out about the Program six months ago, yet she has been working with veterans and their families for ten years.

          Norbie Lara found out about the Program after he lost his right arm in Iraq in 2004 and was offered one of the phone systems from CTAP. He turned it down because he was already using a phone that was years ahead in its technological capabilities, and he also felt that he would be tethered to his house if he settled for a land line. Ken asked Norbie what his expectations of the Program were and he replied that he hoped that the Committee would listen to what the panelists were saying today and move forward with the technology that is “out there.”

          Jesse said that we shouldn’t expect the state to do it all and that the V.A. is also responsible for introducing and providing what’s “out there,” but they don’t. They are not keeping pace with the technological advances and he and other veterans have had to fight for everything they’ve been given so far. Jesse insisted upon being given the tools he needed to be re-employed and all he got was a talking clock and a talking microwave. He gave credit to individuals like Louie whose activism finally embarrassed the V.A. and got the ball rolling. Loretta shared an anecdote about not being provided meeting materials in Braille when she was working for the SSA. She came to a meeting and presented her information to her boss in Braille. He said, “I can’t read this!” and she said, “Exactly,” and he finally got it. Loretta used this incident to illustrate her point that it’s not always what people mean to do when they leave you out of the loop, it’s that they’re not educated to think any differently. Loretta feels it is her job to be vocal and to continue to educate the public about the rights of the disabled to equal access to information.  

          Ken then asked the panelists if the DDTP should designate a specific point person from each organization represented today who would work with the DDTP to get the word out about their products and services. Wendy Van Houten asked to return to the question of whether she knew about the DDTP before today before responding to Ken’s next question. Wendy learned about the Program a couple years ago when she began her outreach research into community based organizations (CBOs) and attended meetings where CTAP Outreach Specialists were giving presentations like the one given today. Because many military families move around so much, she wondered if their temporary residency in California would allow them to qualify for the free phone program. When Wendy inquired about this, one of the Outreach Specialists found out that the Military Spouse Residency Act ensured that even if military personnel or family members are legal residents of another state, they are eligible for the free California phones as temporary residents. So, Wendy said, the Outreach Specialists giving CTAP presentations at CBOs and V.A. facilities is crucial to getting the word out about the Program.

          Michael Patton also responded to the earlier question by stating that he had only heard of the Program two years ago because of his company’s (Pothos) work as a Disabled Veteran Business Enterprise (DVBE) subcontractor with Hamilton Relay. Michael said that government programs which are implemented by the government typically don’t work and that they are better served by looking to the business community to run them. He cited Hamilton Relay’s marketing department’s intention to strategically target an outreach program to the veteran community as the kind of grassroots outreach that would get the word out about what the DDTP has to offer.

          Louie Herrera said that he has known about CTAP for a long time but that it’s often difficult to tell people about the Program because they don’t want to admit that they are losing their sight or their hearing or that they now need help doing things they’ve always been able to do on their own. He added that there should be CTAP brochures available that are in large print or tactile print in all the ophthalmology centers because very few blind people or those with low vision read Braille, but they’ve been reading print all their lives. Louie is amazed that the V.A. doesn’t encourage veterans to look into programs like CTAP because there’s so much that can be done to improve their quality of life.  

          Dr. Cotton said she didn’t know about CTAP before being invited to be part of the forum today. She added that she was here today to listen and gather information so that she could add the CTAP program to her toolbox of services available to veterans. She hoped to network with the other panelists, develop collaboration and partnerships, and exchange contact information with them, but was frustrated by not having any business cards of her own to share.

          Mary Ellen spoke up at this time to say that this was one of the challenges of working with the V.A. and that every V.A. employee she had met in the last ten years didn’t have a business card!

          Michael Magpusao stated that the director of Project Hire knows about CTAP but that he didn’t know about the Program himself before coming to the panel discussion today. 

          Jax Levesque said how much he appreciated all the panelists’ coming to the forum today. He added that he wanted to be sure they would all offer their support when changes or additions to what is considered basic telephone service, such as GPS technology being built into phones, go to the legislature in the form of a bill.

 

Lunch 12:30 PM – 1:30 PM 

 

IV. Question and Answer Session 

 

          Before beginning the Q & A Session, Michael Patton wanted to add his comments to the earlier discussion about the V.A.. Michael’s company, Pothos, is a prime contractor with the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, D.C. and with various entities of the V.A. and the V.H.A. Michael sees the V.A. as being tasked with an enormous project, the aftercare of veterans once they have left military service. What he has seen in Washington are people with good intentions who fail sometimes, not because they don’t care or they’re not trying, but because they are crippled by lots of politics, bureaucracy, and red tape. 

          Kathleen Barrett expressed her concern that many returning veterans are suffering from some type of brain injury which may cause mobility or cognitive impairment, and the technology they were using before they went to war may not work so well for them now. Kathleen wondered, at what point of contact after coming home do the panelists see CTAP getting involved? 

          Dr. Cotton responded that the goal of the V.H.A. is care at any point in injury, so as soon as individuals are discharged from the service and active duty, the V.A. is to step in and “wrap their arms around them.” She said her hope was to invite CTAP to speak with providers and give presentations at staff meetings so that they will in turn let their patients know that these services are available. She added that treatment of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is currently a huge initiative for the V.A., but that the right point for CTAP to get involved is at any point.

          Michael Magpusao remarked that it was great that veterans register with the V.A. immediately or even several months after their discharge, but he feels that they should be contacted before they even get off active duty. Speaking from personal experience, he wishes that someone had spoken with him about what lay ahead while he was still on active duty and before he began the transition back to civilian life. Michael said that he doesn’t know how realistic it is to be able to coordinate all the service branches with all the services available to them, but he hopes there’s a way to make this happen. It took him a year to start connecting with people who could help him sort out his medical benefits or find a job, but that for many veterans, this would be too late.

          Roberto Rocha mentioned the Transitional Adjustment Program (TAP) which was initiated by the American Legion many years ago. This program was designed to help veterans as they were mustering out of the service to transition to civilian life, but it’s not mandatory and is not offered by every branch of the service. Roberto remembered that he had a terrible time adjusting when he came back in country and that like most people who enter the service, he was a different person when he left it. Physically  they may look the same, but inside they have wounds that no one can see, and they carry those wounds with them. He feels that if TAP could be re-implemented and made mandatory that it would go a long way to helping veterans make a smoother transition to civilian life.

          Wendy Van Houten stated that the TAP program is in every branch of the military and that it is mandatory, but that the quality of the information and services provided to veterans varies greatly depending upon where they go through the program. She reminded the Committees that it isn’t just veterans that are served by this and other veterans programs, but that there are National Guardsmen, Reservists, military spouses and their families that also benefit from them. Wendy suggested that when looking for contact people at any of the Department of Defense programs, CTAP should look to family programs staff as the most likely to be able to spread the word about services they offer.

          Mary Ellen Salzano suggested that CTAP work with community colleges as there are 30,000 veterans in the community college system in California. She feels that we already know the needs of older veterans, but that the newer generations will have changing needs now and five, ten, fifteen years from now, and that is where our focus should be for the future. Mary Ellen said that these men and women are using social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and that this is where we’ll be able to have the most impact and the broadest outreach. After rattling off a list of acronyms that all the panelists knew and understood but most of the audience did not, Mary Ellen said that if we don’t know the language and culture of the younger generations of veterans, it will be challenging to create and offer services and programs that will be accessible and useful to them.

         

V. Public Input 

 

          Bob Davies of the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) noted that they would be having their state conference in Oakland in February of 2012 and that there will be a workshop devoted to veterans to help them find out more about the resources available to them to deal with their hearing loss.

          Mary Ellen added that dealing with hearing loss is very important, but veterans’ peripheral vision is being affected by night goggles, they’re developing arthritis from carrying around 80 pounds of gear, and their invisible traumatic brain injury will present many challenges in the future. She feels that we have to be visionary and be forward thinkers in order to keep pace with the technological advances that will enable veterans to live with their injuries, now and in the years to come.

          Rick Rutherford commented that he participates in many hearing loss groups and knows at least one veteran in each group, but would like to see more participation by veterans in these social organizations. He asked to get together with panelists to exchange ideas about how to make this happen.

          At this point Jax reiterated his earlier request that the panelists give their support to future legislation that would change the statute that CTAP operates under in terms of adding digital devices. Roberto offered to bring the issue up to the Veterans Affairs Commission and take it all the way to Sacramento. He also said he could speak to the many Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) he belongs to and get their backing, but warned that it is a long process to change laws. However, there is real urgency to this issue because technology is moving so fast and the younger generation of veterans is being left behind. Louie agreed that everything is going digital and that veterans will not be the only group left behind if we don’t change laws to accommodate progress. New technology will benefit everyone. Louie also mentioned the importance of adequate assessment of a person’s disabilities to determine their functionality, capabilities, and limitations so that they can be matched with the appropriate assistive technology. One size never has and never will fit all. Richard Ray added that at the federal level, the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Department of Justice, and the Federal Communications Commission are all grappling with the issues around analog, digital and VoIP technologies as they pertain to 911 access. Dr. Cotton said that there is also significant movement within the VHA about broadband access and figuring out how information can be both secure and easily accessible. Mussie Gebre added that with the passage of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, there is serving as a great push to move analog along into digital technology and that it will all be changing in the future.

          Kathleen Barrett thanked the panelists on behalf of TADDAC and EPAC. Linda Gustafson also thanked the panelists and encouraged them to keep the lines of communication open between them and the Committees.

 

VI. CSD Annual Report Presentation 

 

          Linda Gustafson introduced Royce Johnson of Communication Service for the Deaf (CSD), one of the Program contractors which provide services at the warehouse and at the Contact Center in Stockton. Royce gave a brief summary of CSD’s role in the program and highlights of their performance in the last year. The Call Center took more than 220,000 calls, the warehouse shipped more than 42,000 pieces of equipment, and they reached a customer satisfaction level of 99.8%. CSD also acquired a new facility which Royce invited everyone to come visit. They introduced new hardware and software to their agents to improve communication and collaborated with CCAF to revamp their training completely which has improved the assessment process and enabled agents to better determine the needs of the customer. This included training in medical terminology which helps the agents understand needs specific to certain disabilities. CSD supported more than 24 different languages and dialects last year and  contacted a specialized language line when they encountered languages that were new to them such as Farsi. They also implemented a process for refurbishing used equipment which used to be discarded, and for the fifth consecutive year they had zero variance when the equipment inventory was audited. In response to comments from the Committee, Royce said that CSD was always striving to improve what they do, developing skill sets to build agents’ knowledge, adding more languages, and developing specific vocabulary that respects the customer. Royce thanked everyone for their time.

 

VII. Meeting Adjournment 

 

          Ann Ruth took this opportunity to recognize and thank Ken Rothschild for his service on both EPAC and TADDAC as this was the last meeting of his term. Linda Gustafson took a few minutes to inform the panelists about the other side of the DDTP, the California Relay Service, and encouraged them to look into it. Kathleen Barrett thanked everyone for a very productive meeting and declared the meeting adjourned. Bob Ostini said he was proud to have been able to provide the Elks Lodge facility for the meeting and thanked the veterans for their service and the Committees for the work they do.

 

The meeting was adjourned at 2:55 PM

 

These minutes were prepared by Patsy Emerson