AI camera helps vision-impaired man ‘read’

Technology helping an elderly man with vision impairment to improve his lifestyle and be more independent.

Technology is helping an elderly man with vision impairment to gain back some of his independence and rely less on friends for support.

Twanny Farrugia, 66, is legally blind, suffers from multiple health issues, and is the second longest living kidney transplant patient in Australia, according to DonateLife Victoria.

He currently uses a whole host of technologies to assist him with tasks he is unable to do because of his vision impairment.

Some of these include the OrCam MyEye 2.0, a wireless smart camera that reads printed text aloud; a GPS device that speaks to him, a barcode reader that helps him identify items at the supermarket and numerous talking equipment.

“All this equipment, though it doesn’t give me back my full independence, it gives me back some independence,” he told Community Care Review.

Twanny Farrugia

Prior to this technology, Mr Farrugia relied on friends to read things to him and complete tasks, but that has now changed.  

“In a lot of cases, I don’t have to use my friends as support workers; they are now my friends,” he said.

“When they come, we can sit down, have a cup of coffee like any friends do and chit chat.”

Technology a part of life

Mr Farrugia was born with severe myopic eye disease and then lost the retina in his right eye when he was 28. In 2015, he lost vision in his left eye and became legally blind, so he turned to technology for help.

“I’ve always looked at technology as being part of my life to improve my lifestyle,” he said.

“If I can find a product that’s going to make my life easier, I will try and get it. And I’m fortunate that technology doesn’t scare me.”

“I still maintain that one day, if I live long enough, that I’m likely to see again through technology.” – Twanny Farrugia

Some of his devices were paid for through NDIS, but some were out of his own pocket, including his electric wheelchair, which he uses to get from place to place.

Carers also provide additional support, such as preparing meals and washing dishes.

“If it wasn’t for the NDIS support… I would either end up in a group home or a nursing home,” he said.

Impact of Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic has made things difficult but hasn’t had a significant impact on Mr Farrugia’s life.

Isolation is not new to him because he has stayed in hospitals several times over the years due to his health issues. These were often in quarantine rooms that didn’t have bathrooms, televisions or phones.

“Today, I’m in my own apartment, I have my guide dog, I have the technology so that I can read books, listen to music, I can FaceTime with my friends; so to me I don’t see it as a hardship,” he said.

However, he does feel frustrated that he isn’t able to move around as freely as before.

“In March, I purchased a fully accessible van so my carers can take me around with my electric wheelchair, so I was looking forward to going for rides, but that will come,” he said.

He is happy to comply with government restrictions because the alternative is much worse.

“I can get an exemption for (wearing) my mask because at the moment I have problems with my nose, so I’m having a lot of problems breathing,” he said.

“But I thought about it and I thought I’d rather be uncomfortable with the mask than end up being on a ventilator,” he said.

Mr Farrugia believes the future of technology is bright.

“I still maintain that one day, if I live long enough, that I’m likely to see again through technology, whether it’s the bionic eye or genetic engineering,” he said.

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Tags: assistive-technology, ndis, Twanny-Farrugia, vision-impairment,

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