Technology Has Become My New Best Friend

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

female Aira user (not Mary) looking at menu posted in restaurant using glasses

Thank goodness the old saying, "You can’t teach an old dog new tricks," has been proven wrong by those of us who are past our prime. We need to keep up, or we’ll be left behind. We’d be saying, "Where did everybody go?"

On the Go with Smart Glasses

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 known as Aira, pronounced like the boy’s name, Ira. If 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 the 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 the 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. First, I have to make sure that two pieces of equipment, no three, counting my iPhone, are fully charged. One is a thing about the size of a deck of cards or a Victor Reader that provides the WiFi as you travel outside your home. It’s called a mifi. The glasses, which look pretty much like a pair of sunglasses with a tiny camera on one earpiece, need to be charged as well. When you press a button on the glasses, it calls an Aira agent, who answers almost immediately and introduces himself or herself. No appointments needed. With the utmost courtesy, respect, and objectivity, he or she describes what they see through the lenses of the glasses as if I were looking through them myself.

First Exploration

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 completely 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 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. She isn’t supposed to express an opinion, but I could hear the smile in her voice.

Meeting the Wardrobe Challenge with Aira

In recent years, I’ve become lazy about labeling my clothes and 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 I 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, reds with reds, purples with purples, etc. 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 it. I recognized some of the dresses that I’d had for a while, so I labeled them and hung them up, but then there were all the tops and pants, and which ones went with which? Was this a solid blue or a blue background with white flowers? The problem was that I simply had too many clothes. I considered calling an Aira agent and doing just a few garments at a time, making several short calls, so I could label and hang them up before doing another small batch. Why didn’t I think of that before?

Old Technology Comes to the Rescue

Then I remembered a piece of technology I hadn’t used in a long time—the iPhone FaceTime feature. I called my daughter, who lives in another state, and problem solved. I could have used another app on my phone called Be My Eyes, a free service where a volunteer answers your tap on your phone and looks at something for you or reads the directions on a package. But there’s nothing like a daughter’s honesty and keen eye for 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,&quo;t 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.

Your Ideas on Using Aira

I would like to hear your ideas about how you use or plan to use Aira.

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Aira, a New and Exciting Access Service

Be My Eyes

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