Edmonton International Airport (EIA) in Alberta, Canada, has teamed up with tech developer Aira to launch an online service that provides live, real-time assistance to people with visual impairments.
EIA is now part of the Aira Airport Network and a designated facility within the Aira online app for users. When a visually impaired passenger arrives at the airport, they can use the app to call up a live agent who will guide them through the terminal using the camera on their smartphone. The agent can assist by reading information for passengers and navigating them through the airport, and can even support safety by encouraging physical distancing from other people where possible.
Steve Maybee, vice president of operations and infrastructure at EIA, said, “Air travel is a necessity not a luxury in our community, and using technology to support travel for everyone is something we’re committed to. With Aira, from curb to gate, our travelers who have visual impairments can now have a memorable airport experience, confidently and independently. We’re glad to partner with Aira and have this service available.
According to the Canadian Council for the Blind and its 2021 report, approximately 124,000 Albertans have mild to severe vision loss.
Wendy Edey, Edmonton resident and Aira user, said, “Thank you EIA for making the airport a free Aira access location. I will be flying this spring and as I am blind, I will be delighted to use Aira to help me find things in the airport while I wait for flights. Airline staff are always helpful, but once I make it through security to the gate I never want to bother anyone to help me find a washroom or something to eat. This service will help me be more independent and have a better experience.”
Troy Otillio, CEO of Aira, added, “We are honored to work with EIA to help connect more people to our service – but more importantly to help make travel more accessible and inclusive to the broadest population. Our goal is to help more people live, work, learn and enjoy their lives more fully by giving them access to the visual information they need and deserve.”
EIA has several initiatives to support accessibility at the airport. This includes the Autism Aviators program to help passengers who have autism, as well as their parents and caregivers. EIA has an on-demand curbside assistance program and in 2020 converted a washroom into a pet relief station designed for service animals. EIA is working toward a visual paging system for passengers with hearing difficulties, and services are available in cooperation with airlines for passengers who need mobility assistance.