The visually impaired can now have a real time digital assistant at MIA. Here’s how.

Click here to read the original article on

Travelers who are blind or visually impaired will now have the option to request a real-time digital agent at Miami International Airport — and all it takes is a flick of the thumb.

“It’s the best time to be blind,” said Virginia Jacko, the president and CEO of Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, “because technology — when it’s properly designed — technology is our best friend.”

MIA, which serves an average of 3.8 million total passengers a month, is the first airport in South Florida to offer Aira, a free mobile app that connects travelers with a live agent who will help them navigate through the busy airport in real time, an Aira spokesman said.

Similar to video calling apps like Facetime, Skype and WhatsApp, the service utilizes the smartphone’s camera to get a live feed of the passenger’s location and has voice talk capabilities. The employee will then be able to help guide travelers through the TSA checkpoint, find a restaurant, bathroom or their departure gate.

Besides giving directions, the agent can also provide up-to-date flight information, help passengers identify their luggage, warn them of possible hazards like a wet floor sign, construction or even call an Uber or Lyft.

The service is “liberating,” said R. David New, the founder of South Beach Jazz Festival and an Aira “traveler” who demonstrated how the app works during a news conference Friday morning at Miami International Airport.


“It gives me the opportunity to live completely independently and have autonomy in my own life,” New said. “Before, it was a lot of guessing. I mean my guide dog is great and she guides me but she can’t tell me if I’m in front of a Taco Bell or KFC.”

New, a Miami Beach resident, was left blind and deaf after a rare illness more than a decade ago and was paralyzed from the waist down. He regained his ability to walk and hear, but not his sight.

He started using the service several years ago and prefers to wear the wireless camera-equipped glasses that come with one of the company’s “Horizon Kit” subscription plans, which start at $124 a month for 120 minutes, according to Aira’s website.

The cheapest personal subscription plan listed on the website is $29 per month for 30 minutes. The app also allows non-subscribers to make five-minute calls for free, according to an Aira spokesman.

But, travelers won’t have to count their minutes at MIA. It’s free.

The airport is footing a $10,000 bill for a year of unlimited calls inside the airport, including the parking garages, said Greg Chin, an airport spokesman. The app will also switch to the airport’s minutes once a subscriber enters into the airport’s “geo-fence.”

“What we’re really trying to do at the airport is to get it more accessibility friendly,” said Jessica Marin, a special projects administrator of operations and the airports ADA coordinator.

David New and his service dog Lola in the Miami International Airport

Marin said the airport had been doing its own internal research on how to improve accessibility when one of the company’s employees, who is blind and volunteers with Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, suggested the service.

MIA is the newest member to join the AAAE-Aira Airport Network, which includes more than a dozen other airports across the country, including the St. Pete–Clearwater International Airport, said an Aira spokesman. Miami Beach, where New lives, partnered with the service in August.

Miami-Dade County has more than 67,000 adults who are visually impaired, according to the GuideStar profile of Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which provides a variety of services to the blind and visually impaired community, including teaching them how to use a variety of technology, like Aira, to empower themselves.

“Independence is freedom and when we are blind, even if we have a guide dog … to not have to grab somebody’s arm and ask them to do sighted guide and help us but to do it alone,” Jack said. “That’s independence.”

The app is free to download from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. The free service is already available at Miami International Airport. For a list of frequently asked questions, including how to use Siri with it, visit and click “FAQ.”


▪ Activate your smartphone’s accessibility features if you haven’t already. For iPhones, the feature you want to turn on is called “VoiceOver” and can be found in Settings. For Androids, you’ll want to turn on the feature “Talkback.”

▪ Download the free app “Aira” from the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store.

▪ Enter your phone number and that’s it. Your account is created.

MCAD rethinks accessibility and design through exhibit

MCAD rethinks accessibility and design through exhibit

originally published on

October 9, 2015

Read more MCAD rethinks accessibility and design through exhibit

New exhibit helps the blind and those with sight ‘see’ downtown Miami architecture

Article Link: Click to read the original article on

Miami Herald 9/10/15, 11:25 AM


Imagine you are blind.

How would you get a sense of what a city skyline looks like? Or fathom the architecture of buildings, in all their grandeur, that gives a metropolitan area its authentic feel?

For someone who’s blind or visually impaired, understanding the façade or identity of a building, all of its corners and dips and shapes and patterns from the ground up, is a challenging feat.

With that in mind, the Miami Center for Architecture and Design (MCAD), in partnership with EXILE Books and Miami Lighthouse for the Blind, have created a first-of-its-kind architecture show designed for people who are blind or visually impaired. A merger of free musical performances, lectures, mobility and orientation tours and a hands-on exhibit, the show also will offer those with sight a new way to look at art and architecture.

On view at MCAD through Oct. 17, the multi-component exhibit “Listen to this Building” goes hand-in-hand with six weeks of special programing to help people of all abilities learn about and visualize downtown Miami’s historic buildings by having them use senses other than sight — like touch and hearing.

“Someone who is blind, they can sort of go through a space and understand the spatial relationships and feel the materials,” says Ricardo Mor, programs coordinator at MCAD, “but they don’t understand what the building looks like on a street level. So these facades, these architectural elements that we love in buildings, are often inaccessible to those who are blind. We wanted to do something that brought this part of the building to the forefront.”

The showcase also aims to help those with sight become conscious of the limitations of what someone who is blind goes through on a daily basis, to create a more empathic community and to effect social policy changes in making Miami more accessible to people who are blind.

Mor collaborated with Amanda Keeley, visual artist and founder of EXILE Books, a mobile book shop currently in MCAD that features and promotes artists’ publications, as well as Sara Rose Darling, who curated the exhibit and helped assemble the program’s events.

“There’s not a full understanding that there are different members of our community with different needs and that everyone should be equally served,” says Keeley. “We wanted to bring this into a contemporary context and have people get their own experience out of it — to experience architecture in a new way.”

Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired helped advise the trio with planning the programming — six events in six weeks that seek “to bridge the understanding between downtown Miami architecture, independent publishing and accessibility, specifically addressing visual impairments.”

In one of the upcoming events, on Sept. 12, Lighthouse will lead free mobility tours every half-hour between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. in conjunction with the Downtown Development Authority’s “Downtown Art Days.” Those with sight will be blindfolded and lent mobility canes as they tour the Old U.S. Post Office and Courthouse, now MCAD, to “better focus on the sounds and other sensory experiences of the city to help them alter their relationship to the building’s architecture.”

The installations in “Listen to this Building” and programming remove all visual stimuli. Near the center of MCAD’s first floor sits a large 3D architectural model of the MCAD building, created by students from FIU’s College of Architecture and the Arts. The model, which is concealed, contains small openings in which people can put their hands, an invitation to touch what’s inside: a rendering of the exterior of the building, complete with stairs, terra cotta roof shingles, circular window panes and other characteristics that make up its physical appearance.

“I didn’t have any idea what the building looked like until I got here tonight,” says R. David New, who was an interior designer who lost his sight to a rare eye disease 14 years ago, at age 31.

“And I was feeling it — the grooves and the columns; it tells you information that you would never otherwise know.”

New will give an Oct. 6 talk with Darling about making Miami more accessible for people with disabilities. As chairman of Miami Beach’s Disability Access Committee, he acts as the “ears” for the mayor and his council to ensure that the business community is complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“We want them to know that all new capital improvements and all new construction centers, and the new convention center and hotels, should all have accessibility in mind,” he said.

He helped propel the idea for the tactile release prints, which make up a large part of the exhibit. Tactile release prints could be compared to the raised outlines of an image on a rubber stamp. Ten of them, showing select downtown Miami buildings with nontraditional architecture and historical significance like Gesu Church, Miami’s oldest Catholic parish, are mounted on MCAD’s interior walls, inviting viewers of all abilities to feel the raised grooves that make up each building’s façade, to get a sense of the structure through touch.

“You look at it, you think about it, you judge it,” Krysta Samuel of Coconut Grove, who attended the Sept. 3 opening night of the exhibit, said about the process of understanding an object through sight.

“You get all this information from just looking at something. This exhibit is a great way to open people’s minds,” she said.

Also featured in the exhibit is a book that combines narratives of each of the buildings in braille alongside the textile releases ($30 via EXILE.) It shares the same title name as the exhibit, aiming to highlight independent publishing while also serving as a tangible model for other architecture centers around the country that have already expressed interest in introducing similar exhibits for those who are blind or visually impaired in their cities.

The DDA provided financial support for the exhibit, tours and braille artist books.

Outside, by MCAD’s front steps, an audio installation features narratives of people describing attributes of each of the 10 featured buildings; it’s accompanied by a large, vinyl floor applique inviting the passersby to “LISTEN” to the building.

“Everything in the exhibition is geared toward people who are blind,” says Mor, who considers the audience underserved. “In the sound installation, people are describing buildings as they would to a person who is blind, so they’re using different language from what they would and it’s forcing them to confront these difficulties in language that sometimes occur when you speak to someone who is blind.”

The elements of the exhibit and programming feed the team’s vision that people will be able to experience architecture in a way that isn’t familiar to them and will force them to put themselves in the shoes of someone who is blind and experience it how they would.

“As an artist,” says Keeley, “that’s something that I believe the best art does — it’s transcendent; it makes you see things in a different way. This exhibit helps to educate the community and facilitates dialogue about accessibility.”

The National Federation of the Blind estimates that as of a 2012 report, there are 6,670,300 people in the United States that have a visual disability, with 434,600 in Florida.

“The person is not defined by the fact that they don’t have sight,” Keeley says. “We all have different characteristics — and we need to be mindful that we’re all in this together.”

“Our part in this is raising awareness,” said Ray Casas, chairman of the board for Miami Lighthouse for the Blind, a longstanding organization that teaches independence to people who are blind through life and job-skill training and offers free eye exams and glasses to low- income students.

“A lot of people rarely deal with a blind person, except maybe an older family member who starts to lose their sight. This brings us out to places where we’re not,” he says.

“It’s an experience for everybody.”

What: ‘Listen to This Building,’ exhibit and programming.
Where: Miami Center for Architecture and Design, 100 NE First Ave. When: Through Oct. 17.

Contact: Email or visit to view programming schedule