As a person living with vision loss, I have had to rely on sighted assistance for as long as I can recall. I consider myself to be fairly independent, however, there are tasks I still require sighted assistance to complete, such as reading mail; navigating unfamiliar locations; determining types of products in my home; ordering an Uber and telling me it is there; and, formatting my resume (yes, they can actually do that).
What is Aira, you may ask?
According to their web site, Aira is “… transformative remote assistive technology that connects the blind with a network of certified agents via wearable smart glasses and an augmented reality dashboard that allows agents to see what the blind person sees in real time.” A blind person – “explorer” – uses their smart phone to connect with an Aira agent, who can provide visual information based on the view from the phone’s camera or smart glasses worn by the Explorer. Agents are trained to provide unbiased information – no editorializing here – on everything from the application of makeup to the items on a restaurant menu to the cycle of a stoplight. Depending on the equipment setup of the Explorer, agents can also take photos, remote in to computers and cell phones, and provide technical assistance. The possibilities are numerous.
For a long time, I knew about Aira but did not take the leap. I think what made me take the leap into the Airasphere was a friend and colleague who told me how it would open up my eyes and my world. I took hers for a test drive, and she is right!
I can honestly say the first time I used Aira, I cried. I have been blind since birth and really never understood how much of the visual world I miss out on. The first time my Aira agent, Emma, described the lay-out at Starbucks, right down to how to navigate the line and the expression on the server’s face, I was overwhelmed, both with amazement and gratitude.
I feel such a sense of independence and dignity with Aira. I was out for lunch with a girlfriend and I had to use the ladies room. In the past, I’d have to ask my friend to guide me there and wait—this always made me feel as though I was two years old needing to be “taken” somewhere. Well, now with Aira, I have that autonomy and freedom. I connected to my Aira agent, Jenny, and she asked me to scan to my right and left. The signs for the ladies room weren’t evident, so we did some exploring. I told my friend that it may take me a bit to navigate, as I’m still new to the app, but not to be concerned. What is great is Aira has a “privacy” mode that I can enable when I am actually in a washroom or other space that is private—this blacks out the agent’s screen so they cannot see what is happening until I turn off the privacy feature. I did make it back to my friend safely and my agent, Jenny, wished us both a good lunch.
I have ordered the Horizon glasses and have not yet received them; I have had some challenges with reaching customer service which I understand to be a common complaint. Other than that, I know this service will really open up my world and will do this even more once I have the glasses and remote data stick.