National Assistive Technology Day – Providing Equal Access For All

March 27th, 2019

An Aira Explorer walking in the mall, wearing the Horizon smart glasses.

An Aira Explorer walking in the mall, wearing the Horizon smart glasses.

The United States Senate has designated today, March 27, 2019, as “National Assistive Technology Awareness Day”. In truth, every day is a great day to celebrate the profound transformation that assistive technologies have brought to our lives as individuals who are blind or have low vision. Everyday life for us is comprised of routinely wielding various technologies, from accessible smartphones and computers to Braille displays or magnifiers. Today, we even have smart speakers everywhere that respond to our insatiable appetite for instant access to answers and information.

As we celebrate the progress we’ve made in enhancing independence, productivity, and participation through the development of assistive and accessible technologies, an exciting future is beginning to show itself with the creation of wearable technologies that will help us conquer even more barriers. In fact, I’m particularly excited to be personally involved in the development and distribution of one of these transformational technologies.

I’m talking about Aira, a service that combines advanced technologies (such as augmented reality and artificial intelligence) with human interaction to give people who are blind or have low vision equal access to the visual world. Our network of highly-trained agents provides on-demand access to visual information – anywhere, and at any time. And when I say at any time, I mean it – our agents are available 24 hours a day, every day.

Aira’s technology enables a person with vision loss to stream video – via a cellphone or a pair of Aira’s proprietary smartglasses – to an agent. The agent uses this live video feed (and other data points such as location tracking and maps) to provide information to assist with tasks such as navigating to and through buildings, reading print documents and signage, determining the color of clothing, accessing medication labels, or even hearing a description of the look on the face of a friend (or foe).

Of course, affordability of assistive technology has been, and remains, a challenge. Fortunately, Aira uses mobile and cloud-based services for its technology, meaning that it can be made available at any facility, almost instantly, with no need for investment in infrastructure or ongoing maintenance. Anyone can contract Aira to set up a “geofence” around a single location (or many) to enable free access to Aira for customers or employees. Individuals, once they’ve created a free account from inside the Aira app, are able to use the service for free in these locations.

We are thrilled that employers use Aira to provide support for blind employees, while banks, retailers, airports, and more, provide Aira for their blind customers. To add to this, transit providers and city governments are also joining the Aira Access Network and providing free service to enhance independence and improve services for citizens with vision loss.

It is our mission at Aira to ensure that any person who is blind or has low vision can access visual information using Aira. And we believe that both the public and private sectors can play important roles in supporting the equal access to visual information that Aira delivers. Specifically, there are five areas where I can see action being taken in this regard:

  1. Any government agency, education provider, employer, or retailer should be encouraged to set up Aira Access to support full access for people who are blind or have low vision.
  2. To address the estimated 70% unemployment among people who are blind or have low vision, incentives should be created to promote the use of Aira in workplaces.
  3. To support access to public spaces and transportation, Aira Access should be deployed throughout communities.
  4. Provide Aira to individuals so they can access visual information to meet their own needs.
  5. Promote access to health information by supporting Aira through Medicare, Medicaid, and other payers.

Aira is excited to celebrate Assistive Technology Awareness Day because we believe that in the not-too-distant future we will succeed in providing equal access to visual information to all. Today, let us pause to give thanks to the researchers, developers, trainers, and funders that have brought about this tremendous progress toward full independence.

And, in honor of the Senate’s important recognition of assistive technology, let us also call upon federal, state, and local governments – as well as the private sector – to invest in the development, distribution, and training needed to put these powerful, life-enhancing technologies into everyone’s hands.

A good starting point is visiting our Aira Access webpage to learn more about how it all works, get resource material for sharing with others, or file your interest in setting up Aira Access at your facility and we’ll get in touch.

Here’s to a future of equal access for all.

Written by Paul Schroeder, Aira Vice President for Public Policy and Strategic Initiatives