Connecticut expands mobility assistance pilot for the blind

For the blind or vision impaired, navigating public spaces can be tricky.

In Connecticut, a pilot program taps the Aira (artificial intelligence remote assistance) service to help individuals with blindness or low vision get around. The Aira mobile app gives blind individuals voice access to trained agents who can see the users’ camera video and talk to them about their surroundings and circumstances. Aira is intended to help users find items in grocery stores, follow social-distancing guidelines and take advantage of public transit thanks to agents who read signs, call out bus stops and offer verbal step-by-step travel directions.

Connecticut launched a no-cost 18-month pilot with Aira in October 2021 to help with bus and train travel, but now it is expanding to Bradley International Airport where it is expected to help the blind navigate security checkpoints and screening process, interact with ticket and gate personnel, find retail and dining options and make their way through the terminal.

To aid their narration, agents not only access the user’s smartphone video, but they also tap into web-based data, including maps, location tracking, search engines, text-based messaging and even rideshare integration, according to the app’s description.

Since its launch, Connecticut users have made nearly 900 calls and logged more than 10,000 minutes through Aira. While visual interpretation is available at some private sector establishments and local agencies across the country, Connecticut is the first state to provide this type of service to members of the public for free.

The Aira pilot program is a collaboration between the Connecticut Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration and the Connecticut Department of Aging and Disability Services. It is administered by the Connecticut Transportation Institute at the University of Connecticut and is funded through federal research dollars, making it possible to offer an 18-month subscription at no cost to the user.

“Whether it’s accessing a ticket vending machine or navigating one of our busy train stations, over the last several months this pilot program has made a difference in people’s lives,” Gov. Ned Lamont said. “By leveraging new technology, we can help travelers access vital services in our state. As one of the region’s premier airports and with more people traveling, it’s great news that Bradley International Airport is joining us in this innovative pilot program.”

In other states, Aira access partners – organizations offering the narration service — including dozens of airports, retailers, museums and universities as well as public-sector organizations including the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the city of Minneapolis and the Texas Workforce Commission .

Connecticut will make a complete report and evaluation of the service available at the end of the pilot.

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