National | Disability

VR technology helps vision impaired taiohi see the world

Kaea Horsfall-Kingi (Te Whānau-a-Kai, Ngāti Kahungunu) lives with nystagmus, an eye condition that causes the eyes to shake or move uncontrollably. This makes it hard for him to see. But a pre-COVID experience with VR (virtual reality) has opened up a whole new world.

The 13-year-old describes what happened that day.

“People from VRVoom came to my school. They had us [sic] to put on virtual reality glasses. So we could watch a video of a topic that we were learning at school.”

For a visually impaired high school student like Horsfall-Kingi, VR learning helped him to absorb more knowledge.

“I was able to catch like everything!” Horsfall-Kingi says.

For the vision impaired, being able to experience learning media in its entirety is a rarity. Horsfall-Kingi's 4/60 vision means that he sees at four metres, is what someone with 20/20 vision sees at 60 metres.

Horsfall-Kingi explains that being vision impaired means that he has to rely on his hearing to help him see. He uses his heightened sense of hearing and his laptop to make electronic music.

There is no cure for nystagmus. However Mother Zara Horsfall credits the early identification of the situation so that her son could receive remedial therapy.

"When he was first diagnosed, he was four months. Basically they said all he could see was shadows. So between that age and two, they can do lots of sensory work, orientation and mobility," Zara Horsfall says.

"That can help them with their developmental process as well as vision."

This means that Horsfall-Kingi can now see colours, shapes and detect contrast. He can read without needing to learn braille.

The young teenager aspires to be an EDM (electronic dance music) and dubstep DJ one day. Skrillex being his favourite. Horsfall-Kingi is looking forward to taking a DJ course once the alert levels make that possible.