Technology, My New Best Friend

The biggest and brightest star in the technology world for people who are blind or visually impaired are the “smart glasses,” brought to the accessibility scene by a company called AIRA. If you’re blind and you’ve ever wished you could have a sighted guide to crawl into a pair of glasses and lead you through unfamiliar territory, help you shop independently, read a menu, or a handwritten birthday card, AIRA has a solution for you.

Having just purchased my first month’s membership, I’m still learning which buttons to push and which tabs on my phone to tap for best results, but so far, it’s the most independent I’ve felt since getting my first dog guide.

Oh please don’t ask me to explain how it works, because it’s absolute magic to me. But I can tell you what I do on my end to make it work. 3 pieces of technology need to be fully charged before I step out the door. One is about the size of a bar of soap that provides the wifi as you travel outside your home. The glasses, which look pretty much like a pair of sun glasses with a tiny camera on one ear piece, need to be charged as well. When you press a button on the glasses, it calls an AIRA agent, who answers almost immediately on my iphone. No appointments needed. He or she describes what they see through the glasses as if I were looking through them myself.

As users of the service, we are called “explorers.” For my first exploration, I asked my agent to go along with me as I walked along my street, which was in the process of being completely removed and replaced. Monster trucks with nerve wracking backup beepers and deafening noises made taking a walk in my neighborhood a scary venture. At the end of the block, they had totally ripped out the corner, so now the sidewalk was a challenge as well. Although I have the best dog guide in the world, I wanted to have someone along, just to affirm that she was taking me the right way around this dangerous obstacle. She did it like a champ, without a single word from me, and it was extra gratifying to hear my agent confirm that we were back on the right track. And here’s my second venture with AIRA. In recent years, I’ve become lazy about labling my clothes, noting colors, patterns, or messages on shirts. One night last week, I put on my AIRA glasses, pushed the little call button, and in a minute or so, my agent and I set to work, sorting my summer clothes. We’ve had a very long winter here in Ohio, so I hadn’t seen some of my dresses and tops for many months and couldn’t even remember buying some of them. That’s because the minute I got them home from the store last summer, winter set in. As I held up each garment, and my female agent described it, I’d put it in a pile of other clothes of a similar color. But I have so many summer clothes that soon, I ran out of spots on the bed for more piles. and then there was the challenge of some items that had several colors that went with several other items. when we ended the session, I realized that my room looked like a cyclone had hit, and I was more confused than ever. Was this a solid blue or a blue background with white flowers? the problem was that I simply had too many clothes.

Then old Technology Came to the Rescue, the facetime feature on my iphone. I called my daughter, who lives in another state, and problem solved. I could have contacted an AIRA agent again, but there’s nothing like a daughter’s honesty and keen eye for my particular style and color. At one point, I said, “Hold on a minute. I’m going to put this outfit in the other closet.” “What happened?” she asked in alarm. “It went black.” “Don’t worry,” I said. “I just put you in my pocket for a minute.” Only a daughter could find that funny. While the AIRA agents and the Be My Eyes volunteers are talented and efficient, it’s more fun to joke around with a daughter. But when a daughter is not around, the next best person is an AIRA agent, whether navigating a construction area or your summer clothes closet.

Mary Hiland

Author of “The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living A Daughter’s Memoir”

Available at

Book Review

It was Thursday night and almost time for our favorite TV show, MASH. Kids had to be put to bed, dinner dishes washed, and laundry done and folded. Then the theme song played, and we settled down for the most entertaining hour of the week. I loved all the characters, but it was Hawkeye who completely stole my heart. I loved his playful, sometimes biting, sarcasm mixed with compassion for his patients. No wonder the nurses swooned whenever he walked across the compound. But did they know that Alan Alda, the man who played that iconic character, was not only a talented actor but also an author, playwright,, director, and philosopher? I certainly didn’t, that is, until I read “Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself.” Throughout this fascinating autobiographical work, I learned how Alan Alda became who he is. His stories of growing up in show business, essays about life’s lessons, and speeches he has delivered to high school and college graduates are a treat to read, especially for those of us who use talking books or Commercial Audio, because the narrator was none other than Alda himself. His sincere delivery and witty commentary made me wish that I could be in his circle of friends. Laughter is vitally important too him, so I’m guessing he’s fun to be around. In one of the chapters about his experience with MASH, he reminisces about the hours his cast members spent waiting for their turn for the cameras. Instead of sitting in their dressing rooms alone, studying their scripts, they sat on chairs in a circle, not just rehearsing, but telling jokes and laughing at each other’s stories. Their sense of family was carried right along with them as they stepped into their parts in the scene. Also important to him is love, as he talks a lot about his devotion to his wife Arlene, who is a well-known author as well.

I had the privilege of being in the audience when they both were on the Chautauqua stage, two years ago, when the theme for that week was writing. I chose that week to attend The Chautauqua Institution in New York, because at that time, I had been working on my own book, a memoir about moving my reluctant mother into assisted living. I wanted to learn from the experts. . Imagine my delight when I knew I was in the presence of this prolific artist. He sat in a rocking chair on stage, along with his wife, and their host Roger Rosenblatt, and we, the audience, had the pure delight of eves-dropping on their witty and pithy conversation. At the time, I knew Alan Alda only as Hawkeye, but since I’ve read three of his books, I know now that he is so much more.

The other two books I thoroughly enjoyed were “Never Have Your Dog Stuffed” and “If I Understood what You Said, Would I Have This Confused Look On My Face?” The titles alone make you think of Hawkeye, don’t they? “Never Have Your Dog Stuffed is not narrated by Alda, but it’s well worth reading anyway. The other two give you the bonus of hearing the voice of Hawkeye. Even if you are too young to have seen Alda in action on stage, in movies, or on a TV screen, you will find all his works entertaining and inspiring.

If you are a talking book subscriber, you can find all three of these books on BARD. Here is the complete title and DB number of my favorite.

Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself DB 64972

And BTW, I did finish my book, “The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living a Daughter’s Memoir, and you can find it on Amazon or