20 Jul 2018

Blind Foundation unveils 'game-changing' smart room

11:12 am on 20 July 2018

A smart room created for the Blind Foundation has been called "game-changing" by its Dunedin clients.

The Blind Foundation's 'smart room'.

The Blind Foundation's 'smart room'. Photo: RNZ / Tess Brunton

Believed to be the first of its kind in New Zealand, the smart room will be open for Blind Foundation clients to come in and see what works for them.

It will be officially opened this morning, but RNZ was given a sneak peek of the room by the foundation's technology advisor Thomas Bryan and senior administrator Karen McCormick on Thursday.

Both are also clients of the foundation.

Walking into the room, a cabinet sits along the far wall with a smart TV, lights, pot plants and a grey cylindrical speaker.

"Alexa," Mr Bryan says and with that, the cylinder whirrs to life.

'Alexa' can tell you the weather, raise the blinds, turn on lights, set timers and put on your favourite radio station all with voice commands.

Technology for people who are blind was traditionally expensive and bulky, Mr Bryan said.

Thomas Bryan.

The foundation's technology advisor, Thomas Bryan. Photo: RNZ / Tess Brunton

Emerging smart technology was particularly exciting for people who are blind or have low vision as it was audio-led, he said.

Using simple voice commands could make a difference for people seeking to live the life they choose - it's "game-changing", Mr Bryan said.

"It is important that we can show these possibilities to our clients, and the Dunedin smart room setup will also provide a perfect training ground into the future.

Having access to a smart room and discovering possible technology options could help improve independence in the blind and vision impaired community, he said.

The Blind Foundation has about 12,700 clients across New Zealand.

However, Mr Bryan said this type of technology did not just serve the needs of people who were blind.

He encouraged organisations for older people and people living with disabilities to consider checking out what technology was an option by visiting the room.

If successful, the foundation could roll out the smart room in communities around the country.

Ms McCormick said technology could help make living independently more achievable for some.

"It would make a huge difference, because now I rely so much on other people," Ms McCormick said.

Instead of finding and asking people questions, she could use a small device in her house as an audio-led technology hub, she said.

While 'Alexa' did have a few flaws, Ms McCormick said the device would make a big difference for people trying to maintain their independence.

Foundation clients can try out the technology by visiting the Dunedin Blind Foundation during regular open days.

The project was funded by Dr Marjorie Barclay Trust.