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