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There’s an App for That… Aira: A New Tool for Independence

 

Chris Tabb, Statewide Orientation and Mobility Specialist, TSBVI Outreach Program

Abstract: Chris Tabb provides an update on a recent app, Aira, that provides access for users with visual impairment and blindness.

Keywords: smartphone, app, independent living skill, ILS, assistive technology, AT, accessibility, free service,

Though Aira has been providing instant access to visual information for users through their smartphone app for a few years, what is new is the amount of free access that users have to that service. But, before we jump into how you can use Aira for free, let’s spend a bit of time exploring what Aira is.

Aira is a service that uses a cellular network or WiFi network to connect a person who is blind or visually impaired with a trained agent who can assist with an array of activities. The service allows the Aira agent to see what is around the user via a camera that is mounted on a pair of glasses or via the camera on a user’s smartphone. Aira uses a pricing structure for its service that allows for free usage in some settings and progresses to paid blocks of minutes. Larger time blocks cost more money per month.

Many businesses and public facilities now offer free use of Aira while you travel within their locations; common examples are airports, grocery stores, and government offices. For example, an airport that provides Aira as a means of accessibility for travelers pays a fee and the traveler makes use of the services at no extra charge. When you connect with an Aira agent at such an establishment, they will provide you with information about your current environment, help to answer questions about what is nearby, and aid in orientation. If you have an account established with Aira and have provided certain personal details, other services can also be made available, such as the agent assisting with arranging ground transportation from the airport.

Aira agents have to abide by specific guidelines for particular activities such as street crossings. Here is an excerpt from the Aira FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) webpage about Street Crossings:

You will receive as much information about the intersection as possible, beginning about half a block from the intersection. This information includes, but is not limited to: the shape of the intersection, the number of lanes that will be crossed, the presence of any medians, what the crosswalk and curbs are like, how the intersection is controlled (stop sign vs. stoplight), and where the pedestrian signal button is located (if applicable). The agent can offer any other information about the intersection that you request, aside from the presence of any moving objects. Once at the curb, if an agent can clearly see the pedestrian signal, they can let you know when the signal has changed in your favor if you have requested them to do so. Once you have finished any follow-up questions about the intersection and have located the curb, the agent will say “I will remain silent as you cross” and remain completely silent until you step up onto the curb on the other side of the crossing. The call will then continue as usual.

Here are some ways that travelers use Aira in their daily lives:

• Reading mail

• Reading directories and signage

• Choosing matching clothing

• Reading prices or other item details at stores

• Navigating environments such as food courts and airports

• Reviewing photographs

• Identifying familiar people in an environment (when the agent has been provided with photographs of the person(s) they are to be locating)

• Reading menus and menu boards

• Describing scenes in the community

• Identifying storefronts

• Obtaining transportation, such as calling in a taxi or other transportation service

• Locating nearby services such as cafés, ATM’s, grocery stores, etc.

• Identifying bus routes and bus numbers at local transit stops and stations

For more information, please visit https://aira.io/ or search the web for “aira.”