Braille interface enabling charity

Foster Hope Otago co-ordinator Juanita Willems (right) shows Otago Service Clubs Medical Trust...
Foster Hope Otago co-ordinator Juanita Willems (right) shows Otago Service Clubs Medical Trust trustee Jack Paine the Polaris digital braille machine, which is a game-changer for her work with the organisation. PHOTO: BRENDA HARWOOD
A progressive loss of sight for local charity Foster Hope Otago co-ordinator Juanita Willems over the past two years threatened the future of the organisation.

But, help was at hand in the form of a generous donation from the Otago Service Clubs Medical Trust, which has provided Ms Willems with a portable Polaris digital braille machine.

"With my loss of vision, it was getting to be impossible for me to do my voluntary work for Foster Hope — and it became clear that the charity wouldn’t have been able to continue in Otago.

"My work with Foster Hope is very important to me, so I am very grateful that the trust has been able to help me to carry on by providing me with this incredible machine," Ms Willems said.

Akin to a small, portable computer, with both speech and a braille display, the Polaris enables Ms Willems to schedule appointments, scan and read documents, send and receive emails, type using the six braille buttons, listen to e-books, and more.

"I’m still learning how to use it, the brailler is a complicated machine, but it has been amazing so far," she said.

"I have been getting lots of practice with it, which is very cool.

"And Blind and Low Vision NZ are training me to ensure that I can use it to its full capacity — it certainly is a game-changer for me and Foster Hope."

Foster Hope Otago supports children arriving in foster care — often with only the clothes they are wearing — by providing backpacks containing basic items, toiletries and pyjamas.

Ms Willems said 2020 had been a busy year for the charity, with about 1600 backpacks provided for children in foster care so far this year.

Foster Hope Otago makes contact with children through Oranga Tamariki, a range of charitable agencies, and organisations such as Grandparents Raising Grandchildren.

"It doesn’t matter who they come to us through, if a foster child is in need of our help, they will get it," she said.

Another major project for Foster Hope Otago each year is its annual Christmas gift drive, during which it gathers and wraps about 800 gifts for foster children.

The Christmas gift drive is about to be launched for this year, Ms Willems said.

The Otago Service Clubs Medical Trust was established in 1987 to raise and administer funds donated to send local men Norman Rae and Joe Wansink to the United Kingdom for heart transplant surgery.

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