I first heard of Aira through one of my best friends, Bailey Putney. She had recently taken on the role of being an “Aira agent” — something that sounded interesting, but completely mysterious.
“So, what exactly is it again?” I remember asking after she told me about her new job.
“You can work from wherever you are, as long as you’ve got a private space and sufficient internet bandwidth,” she said from her apartment in Washington D.C. where she was living at the time, “It’s a startup based in San Diego. And they’re doing some incredible stuff.”
That incredible stuff, she went on, was connecting individuals who are blind or have low vision with real, highly-trained professionals who provide visual information on-demand. In other words, providing the tools and information for greater independence and freedom to enjoy day-to-day life.
I was intrigued. “What do you mean?”
Bailey broke it down for me: individuals who are blind or have low vision — whom Aira calls “Explorers” — can call an Aira agent at any time, 24/7, with the Aira app. The app connects with the camera on your phone or through Aira’s smart glasses to see the Explorer’s surroundings. The agent can then talk with the Explorer and provide the visual information they need.
From there, the opportunities are seemingly endless. Explorers call in with a variety of tasks — from assembling a lawnmower, to describing art at the Louvre, to navigating the new restaurant down the street.
Intrigued, and realizing I have much to learn about the Blind and Low Vision (BLV) Community, I sat down with Bailey to learn more about what it’s like to be an Aira agent. She shared about her time as an agent, as well as in her role now as an Agent Analyst.
Being an Aira agent has taught me to choose my words wisely — not just in my professional life, but my personal life as well.
What first drew you to work with Aira?
I was attracted to the freedom of the agent position. I wasn’t sure where I was going to be living in the next few months, so it was nice to not be tied to one place.
But the biggest thing that attracted me was helping people. Throughout my career, the common denominator has always been helping others in some way. At Aira, I know what I’m doing really matters.
How do you answer each call?
“Thank you for calling Aira, this is Bailey. What would you like to do today?”
We say this instead of, “How can I help you?” because what we do is not about helping our Explorers; it’s about working with them to do whatever they want.
What is one of the most common situations you hear as an Aira agent?
Tasks vary greatly from call to call. Sometimes it’s describing a new appliance. For instance, if an Explorer is at an Airbnb, they may ask for the layout of the microwave or Keurig buttons there. Other common tasks are reading mail, formatting a resume, or sorting through the laundry. Or sometimes it’s guiding the Explorer in taking a picture — one of my favorites was a Mom taking a picture of her 5-year-old boy for mismatch day at school. He was in completely mismatching clothes, with two different shoes on his feet, and spiked hair!
Has being an Aira agent changed how you view language, and how?
In a few ways, yes. It’s shown me how expansive the experience of one concept can be. For instance, reading. For a sighted person, reading is a visual experience. For someone who is blind or has low vision, it can be an auditory experience, or a tactile experience, if they are reading Braille. In each of those experiences we are all “reading,” and yet it can take many forms for different people.
Being an agent has also taught me to be more concise with my words. When you’re guiding an Explorer, you don’t want to use any unnecessary words or fillers. You want to give the Explorer only the words they need. This has taught me to choose my words wisely — not just in my professional life, but my personal life as well.
What is one of the most difficult things you’ve had to describe?
A Cardi B music video. It was just so fast.
What is one of your favorite moments with an Explorer?
There are many. Here are two: One of my favorites was with a man who spoke Arabic who was reading a children’s book to his daughter. I would read to him in English and he would translate to her in Arabic. At some points, the book asked the reader to point to the correct animal. When the daughter pointed, he would ask me, “What is she pointing at?” “She’s pointing at the owl,” I would say. Although I couldn’t understand his Arabic, I could tell sometimes he was saying, “No, not the owl! The cow!” Hearing them laugh and share father-daughter moments together was such a joy.
Another moment was with an older man, who was navigating to a pub. After he sat down with his beer, he said, “This is the first time I’ve gone anywhere without my wife. She passed away recently.” He told me that without her as his guide, he’d been too nervous to go out. But with the Aira agent, he felt more confident.
What do you enjoy most about being an Aira agent?
I have always been drawn to supporting people that have different sets of abilities and helping them realize they can do whatever they want; at the same time, showing society that those communities and those people have just as much to offer as anyone else.
In my time working as a PCA as well as living with my younger sister – who has developmental disabilities – I learned that so many people disregard the thoughts, opinions, or dreams of those who function in any way different than their own. Maybe they communicate differently, or they have a different set of abilities. Yet, when we do this, we miss out on a great opportunity to learn. If we listen to those who have different abilities, and acknowledge the skills and thoughts that they have, we can learn a lot… as humanity, really. And I like being part of a company whose mission aligns so seamlessly with that idea.
Learn more about what it means to be an Aira agent, here.