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New Sky Harbor app partnership guides travelers who are vision impaired from the curb to gate

Through the mobile AIRA app, professionally-trained visual interpreters use live-streamed video to give detailed directions to users at Sky Harbor Airport.

PHOENIX — A new partnership at Phoenix Sky Harbor is making transportation more seamless for travelers who are vision impaired. All users need is an app and their phone, to start navigating.

The app is called AIRA. It simplifies travel which can be difficult when getting from the curb to the gate at one of the top 10 busiest airports in the nation. Anything that smooths out the process is an opportunity Cynthia Woods will take.

“I’m always looking for ways where I can do things by myself, for myself and not have to ask a co-worker or family member," Woods said. 

Woods lost her eyesight about 30 years ago, which was a dramatic life change for her. 

“Because you go from seeing all of a sudden the things you used to do like driving, reading, the simple things that most of us tend to take for granted, they're gone," Woods said. 

Today she’s still on the go, and the AIRA app just partnered with Sky Harbor to bring its services to people like Woods for free.

“It’s very freeing," Woods said. "In the past, everyone with vision impairment would have to depend upon some sort of a sighted guide. Now I can just come to the airport and find my gate and get on a plane and go.”

Through the mobile AIRA app, professionally-trained visual interpreters use live-streamed video to give detailed directions, help users navigate through crowds, avoid obstacles, find gates, get through TSA, and more.

It’s a tool the Foundation for Blind Children’s CEO, Marc Ashton, said teaches anyone with vision impairment how to travel.

“We worked with AIRA when they came out with this app," Ashton said. "We were like this is it, this is the last little bit that we need. We just adopted it right away. We’ve trained all of our adults on it. We’re training young students on it as well as they become age appropriate.”

While it’s free to travelers when they’re at Sky Harbor, AIRA is also available to users at a cost beyond the airport.

“It’ll help me find the door to get in the hotel when the cab drops me off," Woods said. "I have someone with me that can give me directions to find the elevator to find the restaurant. Whatever I need to do. So it really does make a big difference.”

The AIRA app is free to download and use through Apple and Google Play. Sky Harbor partnered with the nonprofit Foundation for Blind Children to bring on more users.

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