Blind Lenoir County Man "Sees" With Apps, Technology

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Smartphones have made our lives easier, but for some, they are much more than that. We visited with a visually impaired man in LaGrange in Lenoir County using apps to basically see things that he can't. We set out to learn how he is making technology work for him and learned so much more about how he sees things differently.

21-year-old Justin Thornton loves music, in particular, pounding on his drum set.

"Music can take you anywhere. It's like you go to a whole other world for a minute and it's awesome," said Thornton.

Justin escapes into his music. Maybe because when you watch him, you would never know that he can't see. He was born blind and all his life has used his 4 senses to live a full life. Today, technology is helping him do that even more. He uses an app called Voice Over. It basically talks him through every click, swipe, and tap.
A program called Fleksy helps him type fast by recognizing his common mistakes and correcting them. His phone helps him count money. Another app identifies his food and drinks by scanning a bar code or taking pictures of the item. Of course, he's on Facebook and Twitter.

"My computer is pretty much my source to the world especially keeping up with news and social media and all that good stuff," said Thornton.

His computer talks to him with a text to speech setting. He "watches" movies with a voice describing the scenes.

He played the movie "Anger Management" on his computer and we listened as the narrator described the opening scene, "He gazes longingly at a blonde girl who's wearing a C.H.I.P.S. t-shirt and playing hopscotch. He closes his notebook and stands up." Justin laughed as he listened.

Technology wasn't the answer to everything. Justin recently went to the Louisiana Center For The Blind for 9 months.

"I know how to use power tools like wood shop and build things if i needed to. I can do basic plumbing. I can travel around town in unfamiliar areas," said Justin.

Justin learned a hard lesson in Louisiana when he was robbed. Police say a man targeted students at the school for the blind, approached Justin on the street and stole his phone and wallet. Justin found someone who let him use his phone to call 911 and he told police about an app on his iPhone that helped police track down the suspect and arrest him. Justin says it was scary, but rewarding that he helped catch the robber. It's a lesson he says he will never forget.

"Took some getting used to adapt, but once I got it I felt like I'm pretty much king of the world. I took control of my life. I'm fully independent."

Justin's mom Gwyn recommends the Louisiana School For The Blind for all blind people, and for everyone with sight to meet a blind person.
"Everybody should have to live how he sees," said Gwyn Thornton as her eyes filled with tears. "Then it would be a better world. He don't judge in no form of how you look, what color you are, how big how small."

Justin says he's ready to live alone and get a job. "I would love to be behind a desk working with computers or training people. I want to be around people. That's my thing. I'm an outgoing person."

For now, he makes money behind the drums that his granddad taught him to play beginning on coffee and pringles cans.
Now he plays gigs with his band, "One More," and is an advocate for others just like him spreading the word blind people are just... people.

"Don't look at them any differently than if you were to look at your best friend because we're not different," said Justin. "We're normal and we live everyday lives just like you do."

Justin works with a counselor at the state health department's Division of Services For The Blind. It has offices all over the state. You can contact them for help with getting phones, technology, or employment for the visually impaired. Just click on the link below for more information.