MBTA Launches AccessAI Pilot Connecting Blind and Low Vision Users with Aira’s Human Artificial Intelligence Technology

May 3rd, 2019

An Aira Explorer holding their smartphone with the Aira app open. The smartphone camera is pointed toward a map of the T.

An Aira Explorer holding their smartphone with the Aira app open. The smartphone camera is pointed toward a map of the T.

Aira’s technology, services will be free to users throughout the MBTA bus, subway, Commuter Rail, and ferry system during the six-month pilot that began May 1.

BOSTON – The MBTA announced the launch of a free six-month accessibility technology pilot called “AccessAI” featuring Aira’s human artificial intelligence (human AI) technology at a kick-off event and live demonstration held today at Government Center Station with General Manager Steve Poftak, Assistant General Manager of System-wide Accessibility Laura Brelsford, Aira Co-Founder and CEO Suman Kanuganti, Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired Executive Director Sassy Outwater-Wright, and AT&T External Affairs Assistant Vice President Brooke Thomson. Local elected officials and members of the blind and low vision community were also in attendance.

Aira connects blind or low vision users with highly trained sighted agents who provide visual information about the user’s surrounding environment—live and on-demand through smartphone video technology. During the six-month pilot that began on May 1, the Aira smartphone app, powered by AT&T, will be free to users throughout the MBTA system at all bus stops, subway stations, Commuter Rail stations, and ferry routes.

“Aira is passionate about transforming daily life for people who are blind or low vision, as better mobility leads to a better economy, which impacts everyone positively,” said Aira Co-Founder and CEO Suman Kanuganti. “We are proud to be collaborating with the MBTA on this unprecedented public private partnership. Together, we will increase accessibility on public transit, for communities in Massachusetts, and the world.”

“Technology is enhancing transit infrastructure. This pilot program gives us the opportunity to unite people, technology, and mobility in ways that have never been tried before. I want to see how far we can go with this,” said Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired Executive Director and Aira Explorer Sassy Outwater-Wright.

The MBTA is committed to continuous accessibility improvements that allow customers to use the system as independently as possible. Aira’s visual interpreter service will be available to users for free throughout the MBTA’s subway, bus, ferry, and commuter rail systems during the six-month pilot through October 31, 2019. The MBTA will also educate the public about the availability of this service through targeted marketing to the MBTA’s Blind Access CharlieCard users and The RIDE’s blind or low vision users as well as through community engagement with local blind and low vision advocate groups. This pilot comes at no cost to the MBTA.

During the six-month pilot, users will be regularly surveyed on the app’s impacts with data that is gathered available to both the MBTA and Aira, and analyzed upon completion of the pilot. Next steps following the pilot will be determined after this data is gathered and analyzed following the pilot’s conclusion.

Used previously at places including the Perkins School for the Blind and Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI), free access to Aira is also available at Massport’s Boston Logan International Airport and Worcester Regional Airport. Additional Aira Access locations can be found here.

MBTA customers interested in accessing Aira while within the MBTA system are encouraged to visit the MBTA website and AccessAI.today for more information, downloading the Aira smartphone app, and signing up for training sessions offered by the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired. More information can also be found by connecting with the T on Twitter @MBTA or Aira @airaio.