A new service is helping passengers with vision loss gain a greater sense of their surroundings at Winnipeg Richardson International Airport.
On November 19, 2019, a service called Aira launched in the airport terminal featuring a live demonstration of how the technology works to best support travellers who are blind or have low vision. Through a mobile app or smart glasses, Aira connects users to trained live agents, who can see a user's environment through their mobile camera. This allows agents to describe objects, read signage, provide navigation, take and label photos, and more to give passengers real-time visual information throughout each step of the travelling process. Winnipeg Richardson International Airport is the second airport in Canada to make Aira available.
"It's always been our goal that every traveller coming through the facilities here is able to anticipate an excellent experience," shared Barry Rempel, President and CEO of Winnipeg Airports Authority. "Bringing this new technology to the airport increases accessibility and reduces barriers for all of our travellers, especially those that sometimes experience travel in ways that we do not. We are now able to reduce barriers to travel and sometimes that experience means we get to share our love of travel with more and more people."
Paul Shroeder, Vice President of Public Policy and Strategic Initiatives at Aira, took part in the official launch and led the Aira service demonstration.
"With that app, which is free to download, the person with their smartphone can tap to call an agent and within seconds bring eyes to their environment to find out the information they need to get the directions they might have been lacking, to identify which gate they are near, to go shop or perhaps to find a restroom."
Shroeder shared how using Aira heightened his experience in a small but meaningful way upon arriving at Winnipeg Richardson International Airport. The live agent on the other end of his camera allowed him to learn of the Christmas trees and decorations being put up in the arrivals area.
"There is no reason, as a totally blind person, that I would have been aware of this unless perhaps I bumped into the tree," said Shroeder.
The Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) Manitoba also joined the launch and offered additional insight on the Aira service. Leonard Furber, Executive Director for CNIB Manitoba spoke to the difference the service made for him in his home and work environments and expressed his excitement towards Aira now being available at the airport.
"I do travel a fair amount in my role and I can tell you that it can be challenging," said Furber.
"So anytime you add a tool that is going to enhance my ability to do so confidently it goes a long way in not only my desire to travel but in my actual ability to get from point A to point B."
Aira has been introduced as an additional layer of support for travellers who are blind or low vision to use to ensure all travellers can enjoy an exceptional experience at Winnipeg Richardson International Airport.
To learn more about Aira and how it works, please click here to visit our Aira webpage.