The assistive technology loan library at SNEC has about 16 items for loan, for a start.PHOTO: SINGAPORE NATIONAL EYE CENTRE

SINGAPORE - Visually impaired patients at the Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC) can now borrow assistive devices, such as text-to-speech magnifiers and Braille tablets, for free.

This allows the patients to test the devices before deciding if they want to purchase them. It also helps to equip the patients with skills to use the devices as technology use becomes commonplace in the healthcare sector.

SNEC's low vision clinic sees about 800 of such patients a year.

The centre's medical director, Professor Wong Tien Yin, said doctors in the future are likely to use more digital solutions, such as wearables and home monitoring devices, to better care for patients.

Speaking at a virtual launch of the loan library on Saturday (Oct 16), Prof Wong said: "Do our patients, particularly the elderly, have the necessary skills to... access these digital solutions? And I think this possible digital divide between the younger and the older people with visual impairment is something that we hope to bridge."

About 1.5 per cent of Singaporeans have low vision, a form of visual impairment that cannot be improved with glasses, medication or surgery.
A person with low vision can have a variable extent of vision loss, such as difficulty seeing in the dark, not being able to see clearly or being sensitive to glare to the point that it affects his daily life.

Low vision is more common in the elderly due to age-related eye conditions.

Minister for Communications and Information, and Minister-in-charge of Smart Nation and Cybersecurity, Ms Josephine Teo, who was the guest of honour at the event, said these assistive technology can allow those with special needs to live more independent lives.

The assistive technology loan library, also known as the Smart Technology Active Ageing Resource Corner, has about 16 items for loan, for a start. Most of the items were loaned to SNEC from SPD, a local charity for people with disabilities.

Other items that can be borrowed from the library include a wearable device that can read text, recognise faces and identify products, and scientific calculators that can read out mathematical expressions, symbols and texts to the user.

Since the soft launch of the library in March, about 16 patients have loaned the devices. They can use an item for three weeks and no charge will be imposed if the device is returned in good condition and on time.

While there are many forms of assistive devices in the market, many visually impaired people and elderly are not aware of them or are not sure how to use these devices, said Ms Joyce Wong, director of centralised services at SPD.

Ms Wong said: "In setting up the assistive technology loan library together with SNEC, our aim is to reduce the barriers to adoption of these devices, and we hope more can stand to benefit from the various resources available that would help them live more independently."