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New app helps blind navigate through airport

Blind and low-vision students from Lighthouse of Pinellas participated Wednesday in a demo of the new app.

CLEARWATER, Florida — Navigating through the airport isn’t always easy. Now imagine doing it all without your vision.

Blind and low-vision students from Lighthouse of Pinellas participated Wednesday in a demo of a new app. St. Pete/Clearwater Airport is one of the first 13 airports in the country offering the AIRA, or Artificial Intelligence Remote Assistance technology to help those who can’t see.

“If you turn immediately to your left this is the entrance to the ticketing area,” a voice coming from an iPhone explains.

The operator named Emily, watching from her computer screen in Texas, is not only providing turn-by-turn instructions. She describes the little details those with vision might take for granted.

“In about 10 to 15 feet … this carpet will change to tile,” Emily says in a calm and friendly voice.“On the left-hand side is a mural of a palm tree… I see a big blue sky, with a bright green palm tree in the center of it,” she describes.

Emily guides the group successfully from the ticket counter, through the twists and turns of security and eventually out to the plane.

“It is very cool that someone so far away can see what our head is looking at or what our phone camera sees,” said Lighthouse of Pinellas instructor Jessica Tomlinson. She says she loves to travel but often gets frustrated having to rely on others.

“I do run into times when they, I guess in order to “keep track of me,” say ‘Stand still, don’t move’ … or ‘Sit down until we come back to get you.’”

Tomlinson says with the AIRA app she has an increased sense of independence.

“Having all this information and being able to make my own decision in getting from Point A to Point B is very empowering.”

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