Virtual guides provide a new view for the visually impaired in the town of Mesa
MESA, AZ – On Friday, the town of Mesa took a revolutionary step to ensure that people who are blind or visually impaired, visiting or living in the area, can navigate their surroundings or carry out their daily tasks in a safer and easier way than ever.
âI love to travel, I love to visit new places and do a lot of travel just for my job,â Jenine Stanley said.
Stanley says it’s not always as easy as it sounds, at least not for her and for understandable reasons.
âI have been visually impaired my entire life and totally blind for about 30 years,â Stanley said.
She says those like her in the blind community tend to depend on others for a variety of critical tasks at times. From directions to and from a particular location to reading mail, depending on what is needed, it can make all the difference on when help can arrive.
âWe rely a lot on others for information and that information arrives when they are able to provide it to us, which is not always the case when we want it to,â Stanley said with a chuckle.
A new app in partnership with the city of Mesa changes that. His name is Aira. It pairs blind and visually impaired users with a virtual guide and, thanks to the person’s camera phone, they become their eyes.
âJust because someone has a vision problem doesn’t mean they don’t need independence and the ability to explore their city and their world like you and I would,â said Alison Brooks of Visit Mesa.
Brooks said on Friday that anyone visiting or living in Mesa can use the service for free.
âWhat it does is connect them with a trained professional who acts as their visual interpreter as they explore the world,â Brooks said.
âEverything from reading pregnancy tests to reading physical mail, reading signage, navigating the city, cooking, is it Diet Pepsi or Diet Coke, is it a shampoo or a conditioner, âsaid Troy Otillio, CEO of Aira.
He says that by connecting to a human agent and receiving real-time assistance, users, whom they call explorers, can navigate stores, buildings, hotels, and navigate faster and easier. daily tasks.
For users, access to Aira can have a major impact. According to company research, the team heard from people for whom technology has enabled them to do everything from just walking around their neighborhood for the first time to hiking in nature to running marathons. .
Only about 53% of blind or visually impaired students progress from the first year to the second year of university; last year’s data on 100 students using Aira shows the technology brings that figure to 92%. Aira also helps to facilitate access to the ordinary workplace for the visually impaired. Currently, around 70% of visually impaired people are not employed full time; Aira’s mission is to reduce this figure to 7%.
âTogether you can accomplish tasks that would otherwise be more difficult, you might wait for someone else to help you or you might not do it at all,â said Otillio.