T offers app to help the visually-impaired navigate the system

May 7, 2019

Blind since childhood, Sassy Outwater-Wright commutes every day on the MBTA, navigating a maze of turns, street crossings, tunnels, and train cars between her home in Salem and office in Brookline.

She uses a mix of low-tech and high-tech aids, from guide dogs to smartphones capable of reading text on the screen out loud, and has been trying out a relatively new tool that she says is like having her own set of eyes.

The tool is a mobile app called Aira that allows operators in remote locations to use the camera in the smartphones of visually impaired people to guide them in real time through public spaces such as train stations. And on Wednesday, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority announced it would make the app free to commuters for a six-month test.

“I need all of that information, and I need it in a few seconds. . . . This technology is able to help someone see with me,” said Outwater-Wright, director of the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

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