Joy McClintock and guide dog Molly at smart room opening
Joy McClintock and guide dog Molly at smart room opening

Our Dunedin office opened a smart room in July demonstrating some of the life-enriching possibilities emerging with new technology for Kiwis who are blind or have low vision. Our clients and their supporters now have the opportunity to check it out.

Our technology advisor, Thomas Bryan, says; “Home automation and smart speakers have the potential to revolutionise the way people living with vision loss access information.”

The room, funded by Dr Marjorie Barclay Trust who the Blind Foundation has a long-standing partnership with, features an Amazon Echo smart speaker linked to other appliances such as blinds, fans and lights, controlled using voice commands.

It also features a Sony smart TV and an Apple TV showcasing each appliance’s accessibility features such as reading out the TV guide for viewers as well as changing channels using voice commands via the smart speaker.

Thomas explains that while emerging smart technology for the home is exciting to many, the smart speaker concept is particularly exciting for the blind and low vision sector because it is audio-led.

“The Blind Foundation seeks to enable our clients to live the life they choose, and in many cases this is about enabling access to information and solving problems for living independently at home. Smart speakers and home automation are a wonderful intersection of these two aspects.

“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. We are so grateful to Dr Marjorie Barclay Trust for recognising the value in this and helping us bring the smart room to life.”

Bryan says that once the home automation systems are setup, the applications are easy to use.

“Anyone who can talk can use a smart speaker. It’s as simple as asking it to turn on or off an appliance, turn up the heating, close the blinds and ask it for information such as public transport timetables or to book you a taxi – all by simple voice commands.”

The organisation aims to establish more smart rooms throughout New Zealand to showcase to clients, their family and supporters how technology can assist them. It is also developing functionality that would enable information such as the Blind Foundation’s accessible library to be provided through smart speakers.

Check out the tech
Blind Foundation clients and their supporters are able to come along and try out the technology for themselves, to see how it works and what works for them.

The room is open on Mondays from 1.30pm to 3.30pm at the Dunedin office: Corner of Hillside Road & Law Street, Dunedin 9012. Show up between these times to check it out.