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San Antonio airport offers high-tech help for blind travelers

A service at the airport is making travel easier for the vision impaired community in San Antonio.

SAN ANTONIO — The San Antonio International Airport (SAT) is offering travelers with vision impairments a virtual helping hand as they navigate the terminals.

Every year, millions of travelers take billions of steps through SAT. A free service is making those steps easier for the vision-impaired community.

Michael Guajardo uses a cane to get around, but he has another tool; the Aira app.

“I have just light perception only. I have Retinitis Pigmentosa,” said Guajardo.

Michael’s vision issues are a hereditary condition. He started noticing changes to his eyesight when he was 9 years old.

“I lost most of my vision by the time I was in my late 20’s,” said Guajardo.

In the past, a trip to the airport meant recruiting a friend to go with him. Now, Michael can travel by himself.

Aira is an app that helps users get around, read information or find an item. The agent gets a view of the surroundings through a smartphone or smart glasses camera.

Aira connects people who are blind or low vision to a trained professional agent who is dedicated to further enhancing their everyday experience

“Being able to get to the Cinnabon is like priority number one,” said Guajardo. “[There’s] a lot of obstacles that I have to avoid … the app just makes it a lot easier. They are able to guide me directly to where I need to go.”

Nancy Lipton with the San Antonio Lighthouse for the Blind and Vision Impaired has seen the independence the app gives users.

“In Bexar County alone, there's over 50,000 people who are blind or severely visually impaired and a lot of those individuals want to travel, they want to go places,” said Lipton. “Sometimes that fear of, well what do I do when I get to the airport? What if there's nobody there to help me? Well, now they don't have to worry about that.”

Aira can help users anywhere for a fee. The service is free at the San Antonio International Airport.

“As soon as you get here, it's geo-fenced,” said Clay White who works at the airport. “You get a notification on your phone and you can tap in and it'll let you know you're in free area. You're able to connect with an agent and we really just want everybody to utilize it because we want them to experience everything that the airport has to offer, and we want this to be a part of a great San Antonio experience.”

Cool, confident and ready for a cinnamon roll, Guajardo says this San Antonio travel experience was pretty sweet.

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