Originally published on USABA on November 19, 2018.
For years, technology has made the world more accessible. From accessible technology and access tools like screen readers, cell phone apps, and scanners, we’ve seen technology that have forever changed the day-to-day tasks for the blind and visually impaired. One of the most recently developed technologies is Aira.
Aira, a service that connects blind and visually impaired people to highly-trained, remote agents, is available through a smartphone app or through an optional pair of Horizon Smart Glasses.
“I think technology in general will enable us all to do more and more,” Amy Bernal, Vice President of Customer Experience at Aira, said. “Our Explorers use Aira for all types of outdoor activities, like hiking and traveling to new destinations. It’s the first step to unlocking new experiences.”
Affectionately called “Explorers” by the company, Aira delivers on-demand access to visual information at the touch of a button, filling in many of the blanks experienced by Explorers and enhancing everyday efficiency, engagement, and independence.
“I use Aira a lot during travel, working out, administrative tasks like paperwork and forms, and things like that,” Aira user and U.S. Army Veteran Tim Hornik said.
Hornik, who became blind after a sniper shot him in the head while on patrol in November 2004, medically retired from the U.S. Army in December 2011. He is the founder and CEO of Blind Not Alone LLC, the Blinded Veterans Association’s Director of District 2, and assists Aira with their Veterans Affairs integration efforts.
“At first, I was skeptical, because I could do a lot of the tasks without using an agent,” Hornik said. “Now that I got to try it out and think about how it can impact my life, I’ve learned that it covers a lot of small things – from the ordinary to the extraordinary. It allows me to see what my daughters are doing when they’re playing soccer or swimming.”
For the past year, Hornik has worked with Aira to introduce the technology to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as part of their rehabilitation services for blind and visually impaired veterans.
“Aira is still gaining a foothold within the VA Rehab Services,” Hornik said. “We’re trying to share information with veterans on how Aira works and how its improving the lives of visually impaired veterans. Since I came on board in late May/early June, we’ve introduced Aira to veterans via six of the 13 blind rehabilitation centers.”
When it comes to running, Aira is not meant to replace a sighted guide, white cane or dog. Aira enhances your experience throughout training and race day, from describing water stations, signs along the race course, what the crowd is looking like, and more. This allows runners to have added direction for safer crowd navigation and a richer experience overall.
“I’m a runner as a hobby, and I’ve always been inspired by our Explorers who’ve completed marathons,” Bernal said. “[The USABA Marathon National Championships will be] my first time running a significant distance as a sighted guide and it’s a great challenge, because I’ve never had to talk to someone during a race or be held accountable to a pace. It’s scary, but in a really good way, and a fun way to build community.”
As part of the Blind Veterans relay team, Hornik and Bernal are teaming up as a runner-sighted guide pair to complete half of the USABA Marathon National Championships at the California International Marathon on Sunday, December 2 in Sacramento.
“We’re just really excited to partner with U.S. Association of Blind Athletes and enable anyone to try Aira for free the weekend of the race,” Bernal said. “As a sponsor of USABA’s participation in the California International Marathon, we’re also working to make downtown Sacramento a full access point and allow Explorers, and guests to leverage Aira as part of their race experience.”
The California International Marathon has served as host to USABA’s annual Marathon National Championships since 2008. Veterans interested in learning more about requesting Aira from the Department of Veterans Affairs can visit www.aira.io/veterans.
To learn more about Aira, visit www.aira.io.