New technology assisting blind, visually-impaired airport customers

Posted at 7:14 PM, Nov 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-09 13:13:47-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - The San Diego International Airport is making travel more accessible to blind and visually-impaired customers.

They've partnered with San Diego startup Aira, a company which uses augmented reality to connect people with visual impairments to live agents.

Through smart glasses or a smartphone camera, the agent becomes the customer's eyes, guiding them through the airport.

While users typically pay a monthly Aira subscription, the service is now available free at select airports, helping customers through security, to restaurants, and baggage claim.

"My first time that I traveled alone after losing my vision, I was a wreck, I mean a wreck," said Maria Johnson, who became legally blind as an adult.

“The thing about having Aira with you when traveling is you always have somebody with you," said Johnson.

Johnson has a rare mitochondrial disease and started losing her vision six years ago. Shortly after her 50th birthday, she was legally blind. 

“I’m a mom, I have two kids, I’m a group fitness instructor, I was running a boot camp and running classes all over San Diego, and all of a sudden this happened," said Johnson.

Johnson has used adaptive technologies like Aira to adjust to her new reality but admits it was difficult to ask for help in the beginning.

“The beauty of it is that’s what the agent is there for, no job is too small or too big for an Aira agent," said Johnson.

The Aira agent not only can see where the customer is but has access to an airport map.

Airport officials say it's part of a broader mission to continue innovating at Lindbergh.