Our First Major Presence at BVA National Convention Inspires Us

August 22nd, 2017

The Aira team in front of their booth. From left to right: Brittany, Jordan, Patrick, Amy, and Adam.

The Aira team in front of their booth. From left to right: Brittany, Jordan, Patrick, Amy, and Adam.

Recently I was privileged to attend and speak at the 72nd Blinded Veterans Association National Convention. Our company participates in many events each year, and this is an especially meaningful one as we launched an initiative in 2016 working with the Veterans Administration to make remote sighted care from trained professional Aira agents accessible to every veteran with blindness or low vision. This was my 2nd time at the BVA national convention, having attended last year with some of our team to learn more about the community, its needs, and its people.

We feel a special bond with the military having started and grown our company in the San Diego area. In the military there is a creed that no soldier be left behind. That is especially meaningful to me when I think about the Aira mission. We are singularly driven to make the physical and digital worlds fully accessible, leaving no person with blindness or low vision behind.

Suman Kanuganti with Aira veteran Explorer Chuck Miller

At the conference, I had the opportunity to meet some of the veterans who are already using Aira. As you would expect, our veteran community is one that brims with independent people and hearing stories of how Aira further extends that independence is both gratifying and invigorating. It strengthens my commitment to build the most robust assistive platform and service that has ever been created. As often happens at events like this, there were stories that stood out and I want to share two.

One of our Explorers, Chuck Miller, is a 28-year Army veteran and more recently the first VA-certified blind sailor. He also bikes and recently participated in the annual Ride Across Iowa. Wearing his Aira glasses and with the assistance of a remotely-located Aira Agent, Chuck guided a group of mostly sighted riders through the crowds to a food booth, much to the surprise of the friends he guided. Or as Chuck tells the story more like shock to the group. I was stoked to meet Chuck Miller at the convention.

Members of Aira team talking to veterans at booth. Pictured are Paul Schroeder, Patrick Lane, Amy Bernal, Brittany Carambio and Jordan Stern.

But not every Aira moment is a once a year moment. Most are just everyday things we all do. One of our most experienced explorers and a technology advocate for veterans and board member of BVA, Paul Mimms, used the service to walk to a nearby deli for a bite. As one of the services we leverage is Uber, he also was able to have his agent secure a driver for his next destination along with details of the ride such as color of the car and license plate information for identification, real time location of the car so Paul could estimate distance of his ride from him, and the driver’s name to personalize interactions.

These are two stories at opposite ends of the spectrum; one a special event and one very much an everyday experience. But in both cases, as Paul says, independence is what makes them stand out. I had an opportunity when Paul and I met to share our common passion for Home and Office Automation as those were the topics in which I had done my Bachelor and Master theses, as fate would have it in our common home state of Missouri.

Suman Kanuganti shares a light moment (and selfie) with Aira veteran Explorer Paul Mimms

Through the past two years we have been fortunate for relationships with organizations like the BVA and others who have helped enlighten us, sometimes offer thoughtful criticism and always bring something to the table that shapes our thinking. It is what propels our innovation and fuels our inventor spirit.

From left to right: Suman Kanuganti, Amy Bernal and Al Avina (Executive Director of BVA)

To share some of what we’ve learned, I will launch a blog series that paints the picture of what drives us and I think makes us different. It will be a living, breathing series because our learning never stops. The series will be titled “The Fundamentals That Drive Us” and I look forward to sharing that with you over the next week or so.

As always, we are on a shared journey and as I talked with conference attendees in Jacksonville last week, I was reminded that you are as much our navigator as we are our own. I very much look forward to many shared experiences along the way.