Seattle-Tacoma Airport to fund smart glasses use for blind travellers

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The Port of Seattle has announced that it will cover the cost of any customer using Aira smart glasses to navigate Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), making the airport considerably more accessible for blind and visually impaired travellers.

Aira smart glasses pair a user with an ‘Aira agent’ who can see through a camera mounted to the glasses, and can provide audio assistance and advice for users if they are unable to navigate an environment themselves. The glasses are linked to a phone app and activated by touch, so agents can only see through a user’s glasses when their help is called for.

“Travel is such an important part of many people’s lives, whether they are blind, low vision, or sighted,” said Suman Kanuganti, CEO of Aira.

“We are so proud to partner with Sea-Tac Airport to provide equal access to visual information to all airport travellers and expand the Aira Airport Network to the West Coast.”

Aira is a subscription service, charging users between $89 and $329 per month for a pair of smart glasses, insurance, data provided by AT&T, an initial training session and access to agents 18 hours a day. Under the agreement between SEA and Aira, users will be able to use the network features of the glasses without deducting minutes from their plan, making the glasses free at the point of use within the airport.

“Our airport seeks to meet the needs of all travellers,” said Courtney Gregoire, president of the Port of Seattle commission. “We are prioritising customer service, innovation investments, and community partnerships to make Sea-Tac Airport more inclusive and the most accessible airport in the United States.”

SEA is the first airport on the west coast of the US to join the Aira Airport Network, a group of five airports including Memphis International Airport, Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport, George Bush Intercontinental Airport and William P. Hobby Airport. It services more than 45 million passengers per year, making it the 14th-busiest airport in the US in 2015.

“As the largest employer of people who are blind on the west coast and the largest employer of people who are deaf or blind in the nation, we are enthusiastic to see organisations like the Port of Seattle experimenting with technology to make their environments more accessible,” said Melanie Wimmenauer, vice president of communications and service business for The Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, a San Francisco-based charity that works to improves access to services for visually-impaired people.