The Association for the Study of African American Life and History designates a new theme for Black History Month each year. This year’s theme, Black Health and Wellness, was meant to pay homage to the accomplishments of medical scholars and healthcare providers born out of necessity, and was especially timely as we enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As [Black people], we have terrible health outcomes, and even the coronavirus has been affecting us disproportionately in terms of those of us who are catching it,” said Dr. W. Marvin Dulaney, historian and president of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.
While the medical community is only just beginning to understand the long-term impact of COVID-19, it isn’t the only lasting health crisis affecting Black Americans. Black Americans have some of the highest rates of vision loss and blindness caused by eye disease, and these rates are getting higher. According to the National Eye Institute (2022), over 825,000 Black Americans have diabetic retinopathy, nearly 190,000 Black Americans have low vision, and Black Americans are at higher risk for glaucoma at a much younger age than other populations.
Multiple barriers can exist for someone who is both blind and part of a minority group. These characteristics intersect to form a person’s identity and can negatively impact perception of oneself, especially self-confidence and independence. Assistive technology like Aira’s visual interpreting cannot remove the barriers, but it can mitigate their impact, enabling people to live more productive, independent, and dignified lives.
Our goal: To enable quick and easy access to visual information for anyone who is blind or has low vision, without socioeconomic barriers. We want to empower individuals — just by tapping the Aira app on their smartphone — to do what they want to do in daily life, on their own terms. Considering the smartphone is nearly ubiquitous—83% of U.S. adults who are Black own a smartphone according to a mid-2021 study by the Pew Research Center—this is entirely possible, and you can help.
Here’s what members of the Aira community have to say about Aira and ‘independence on their own terms.’
–Explorer Cassandra Jones
“It is also reassuring to know that Aira’s Agents are highly trained professionals which increases the trust level as you essentially invite them into your home to assist you with a wide range of important and personal activities.”
–Explorer Maurice Crittendon
“I pull up the app when I need something to be described to me. Doing that just allows me to feel a bit more free, not having to rely on asking [other] people. I particularly like clothes and shoes, so asking an Agent: ‘Hey does this match with this?’, or ‘How does this look?’ Using the Agents for assistance has increased, and if I had to give a word to describe it, it would be ‘liberating’, very liberating in the sense that I can call a trusted party and this trusted party can give to me the information that I need.”
–Explorer and Musician Andre Louis
“When companies like Aira build accessibility into their products, it benefits more than just a minority of persons. Everyone benefits.”
–Aira Agent Shaela
“The world is just not set up to provide an equitable life experience to everyone. Aira is working incredibly hard to remedy that.”
Aira is empowering people with visual impairments to participate in daily life, on their own terms. We invite you to share this piece with your community. Read the full stories from our community members here and for additional information, we can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-800-835-1934.