Courage and initiative Health Science and Technology

Technology and braille add colour to a purposeful life


Phil Thorn has risen from the ashes after being struck down with meningitis 10 years ago and left wheelchair bound, profoundly deaf and blind. He is determined to live life to the full and even completed a 160km challenge around Lake Taupo five years ago on a tandem low rider bicycle.

Now he is using technology we often take for granted to add more colour to his life. Operating with adaptive Braille technology he can access the world through his iPhone, receive texts, check emails, check the news, use social media, read books, do banking plus study online.

He lives in an apartment at the Laura Fergusson Trust in Lower Hutt. This Trust provides residential and rehabilitation services for adults with physical or neurological impairments.

Asked interview questions via a professional deaf- blind communicator (hand-over-hand) handsigner Andrea, Phil explains that his focus “is around the feeling that I believe my life has been gifted back to me.”

Focussed on hope

He tries to focus on that every day as it gives him a sense of fulfilment.

Phil says hope “is an incredible thing” and without it people can end up in a bad place.

He refuses to live out an existence.

“I am still a person worthy of dignity and respect. Don’t ever take away the hope factor,” he says.

When doctors said there was no more they could do for him, Phil refused to accept their words.

To a person facing challenges his advice is to keep routine in your life, and “guard your thoughts because they become your words, which become your actions which become your habits, which become your character.”

Thoughts can either kill you or make you,” he says.

He says people must sow good things into their lives on a daily basis.

A follower of routine, his days include Bible study and meditation, using the on-site gym (where he is working to improve his walking), preparing his own meals in a full kitchen, and using technology to read the news, keep in touch by email and study a life coaching course. He’s also interested in chaplaincy work.

“I learned a lot on the journey but I need some form of qualification for assisting people.”

He goes supermarket shopping with a helper, enjoys a barista-made coffee and attends church on Sundays. Technology means he doesn’t miss out on the sermon.

Phil Thorn is master of the full kitchen in his apartment. He makes his meals from scratch every day

He uses similar technology to meet friends for coffee. Once there, they communicate by handsigning or texting so he is able to speak back to them.

Using technology to keep in touch with his teenage children is also important to Phil.

The doorway to Phil’s new life was learning Braille.

Technology as a doorway

To demonstrate how he uses technology, Phil writes some of his story in his own words on a Notebook with an extra keyboard in Braille.

“The Blind Foundation in Dunedin came to visit and offer me the opportunity to learn Braille”, he says.

“As much as I was struggling majorly coming to terms with what had happened to me, I convinced myself I must learn Braille as it was the doorway to my future.

“Almost 10 years have passed since I started on my journey following meningitis. Braille and technology are an important part of everyday life for me now. I am writing this from my HP Notebook with a 40 cell Braillant display with Braille input and output.

“I use Outlook for emailing, access the public library to borrow eBooks, download my lessons for the online diploma I am studying towards plus so much more, along with this I use a Braillenote Apex, which I mainly use to navigate my iPhone with.

“The iPhone allows me to send and receive txt messages, check email, I receive the message for the Sunday morning service at The Kings Arms as an attachment, which I download using wi-fi, purchase and read books using iBook and the Kindle APPs, news APPs, online banking, etc.

“I also have a Bible APP for daily reading. Technology is amazing and it takes a bit keeping up to date but it has changed my life; however, it doesn’t replace real conversation with another human. I encourage that as much as possible and now, with the aid of two hearing implants, I am making progress with recognising speech again.”

Phil says he likes what Helen Keller said and believes it:

“Security is merely a superstition, it does not exist in nature and neither do the children of men experience it as a whole. God Himself is not secure having given man domain over His creation.

“Avoiding danger in the long run is no safer than outright exposure.  Faith alone defends, life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all. To keep one’s face towards change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is true strength. Undefeatable” – Helen Keller.

Phil has been keeping folks updated on his Facebook page plus BlogSpot called, “Forging an iron will.”

He also tells more about his story click here

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