Airport works to improve travel for blind passengers

Airport works to improve travel for blind passengers
Updated: Oct. 19, 2017 at 11:55 AM CDT
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Man wearing AIRA glasses. (Source: WMC Action News 5)
Man wearing AIRA glasses. (Source: WMC Action News 5)

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Memphis International Airport announced Thursday it's taking steps to make air travel easier for those who are blind.

The airport is teaming up with a California-based start up that uses wearable technology.

"We are on a mission of accessibility around the globe," said Kevin Phelan, with AIRA.

AIRA is a service to assist those who are blind. With special wearable technology on glasses and an app, AIRA agents guide members through navigating everyday events. The fee is billed based on minutes used, starting at $89 a month. AIRA provides the glasses as well.

People with low vision often have major issues in airports, with packed terminals, substantial movement, and situations where navigating quickly can be an issue, according to company representatives. Sometimes those who are blind may even be met with a wheelchair even though they are totally mobile and can walk with no issue.

"It can be insulting, but even if it's in the record that I'm blind and traveling with a guide dog, there's no guarantee that someone will show up," said Michael Hingson, who works for AIRA but also uses the service.

When AIRA subscribers set foot on Memphis International Airport property, the airport will cover the cost for their navigation, meaning subscribers won't have to use any of their minutes to get around the airport. The airport will begin with a $5,000 investment for a set number of minutes.

The hope, according to airport leaders, is that those with visual difficulties will discover Memphis as an easy to get to destination.

"It's really a matter of bringing better service to all our passengers and making the airport friendly and accessible to all our passengers," MEM Director of Strategic Marketing Glen Thomas said.

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