Author: Michael Dabney
Aira took a major step towards helping the nation’s legally blind military veterans “to explore their world like never before” when it showcased its technology and services before enthusiastic crowds at the annual convention of the the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) recently.
At the five-day convention in Milwaukee, WI — where more than 200 blind vets (including those who have recently lost their vision from injuries while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan) gathered with other attendees — BVA members, including key leaders of the organization, were not only impressed with their interaction with Aira, but many were “wowed” by it. This is especially encouraging as Aira gears up for its Explorer launch set for late 2016 with 200 exclusive users, and as it proceeds to recruit, hire and train sighted immobile military vets to serve as assistive Agents for blind and low-vision veterans. Aira already has 2 veterans serving as Agents.
More than 40 Beta Trials Conducted With Vets
“During the event, says Mac Villarreal, Aira Director of User Engagement,“we conducted more than 40 live Beta Trial demonstrations with blind veterans as they were assisted on-site by Aira’s remote Agents in various scenarios, including navigating in and around the convention’s exhibit areas, and walking outdoors in key areas near the convention’s hotel.”
As a special highlight, beta demonstrations were also conducted with vets in the stadium at a Milwaukee Brewers baseball game sponsored by Aira.
The Aira team participated in the BVA Convention to reach out to vets, who represent a growing segment of the blind community. Specifically, the team’s goal was to gather feedback on how Aira can enhance their independence, and Aira was later pleased to learn through individual sessions with vets that they felt that Aira’s service could impact their lives in positive ways.
Details of Aira’s upcoming Explorer Launch were also met with enthused interest among BVA leaders and members, some who signed up as Explorers soon after participating in their beta trial demonstration. Having veterans participate in our Explorer Program will greatly enhance Aira’s goal to further tune the service to assist blinded veterans.
Says Aira agent, Erin Cater, who conducted many of the user demonstrations at the BVA event: “Working with users is especially important to us as it helps Aira to continually refine its technology. It is such an honor to be an Aira Agent, and I really enjoyed working with veterans at the BVA convention. Although the cause of blindness may sometimes differ between military veterans and non-veteran individuals, we at Aira are able to provide an equally great experience for both. We want to ensure our service is as accessible, easy-to-use and as reliable for users as possible.”
Blinded Vets React to Their First Aira Experience
Here is what a few participating veterans and other participants from the convention had to say after their first Aira experience:
— “The whole experience was fantastic, especially my remote agent who was very descriptive, had a great personality and knew how to connect with you. For instance, as I was walking just outside the convention exhibit hall, she, without
having to be asked, gave me details on my surroundings, which I really appreciated — such as where the restrooms, water fountains and trash cans were. For a visually impaired person, these things are valuable to know, especially if you are in a new, unfamiliar place.” — Bill B.
— Aira is almost like having a sighted person walk with you. What great assistance to have when you are trying to find your way through airports when traveling, or trying to locate a new restaurant, or finding the back of a line!” — Cory B.
— The experience was pretty amazing. Because of my vision loss, I have a big problem with lighting, so during the Aira demonstration when we went outside, there was bright sunlight and shadows all around, which usually disorientates me. But my agent was able to reassure me that my path was clear and to go straight ahead, which made my travel safe and more efficient.” — Craig E.
Looking ahead, Suman Kanuganti, Aira Co-Founder and CEO, is optimistic that Aira’s recent convention participation with BVA will bode well for both organizations. “I want to sincerely thank the BVA for such an informative,
engaging event, including BVA President Dale Stamper for making Aira’s first participation at a major BVA gathering so memorable and productive. We hope that the 40 Beta Trial demonstration sessions with blinded veterans at the event will pave the way for future partnerships with this important segment of the blind community.”