When you are blind or a person considered low vision, the world tends to shrink around you. While there are exceptions to this rule, and I know many, the truth is that for the blind and low vision, “Access” is something that is a barrier for living life on an equal and level playing field. Technology has unlocked some of the access issues for my community, screen readers, braille, guide dogs, voice over software, text to voice and voice to text have done a lot to open the door on the gilded cage many blind and low vision people live in. While I don't want to offend anybody in my community, the gilded cage was a very real thing for me. For others, it may be referred to as a comfort zone or their “Sphere.” A geographical territory where they could navigate with some level of confidence. The reality is however that much of the world has remained closed off, inaccessible for the blind and those with low vision.
It is no secret that I am a rather enthusiastic advocate for Aira, for the technology that I believe is the next evolutionary step towards augmenting vision where it does not exist. Through Aira’s revolutionary approach to opening the world to the blind by utilizing a camera in glasses or through a smart phone app to provide users with real time visual information via live highly trained skilled Agents and an ever evolving AI we can now expand lives beyond the artificial world that was their reality. The key word in that last sentence is “Was.” As I travel and speak about being blind I usually start the conversation by asking two questions. The first question I ask is, “In your day to day life, how many blind people do you see or interact with?” The number is always very low ranging from 0 to maybe 1 or 2. The next question I ask is, “How many blind or low vision people do you think exist in the world’s population?” The answer is usually again very low. The answer to the last question usually requires explanation. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates the number of blind at somewhere in the vicinity of 300 million plus. This is because it is difficult to account for an exact number because many cultures simply don't report accurate numbers or simply hide their blind. When you factor in those with low vision, low vision meaning someone who requires assistance accomplishing tasks day to day that number skyrockets. After researching this I have not come up with a number that I can be confident with, however, I can comfortably estimate that it is somewhere around 900 million. I have seen numbers as high as 1.3 billion. In order to wrap your mind around such a large number you have to take into consideration the number of those born blind. Then factor in retinal diseases such as but not exclusive to Retinal diseases like Retinitis Pigmentosa and Macular Degeneration. Sight loss due to an aging baby boomer generation, diabetes, war injuries, cataracts that plague third world countries and so many other factors that I think you can begin to see where this number can be realized.
So, what is with the depressing numbers Mr. Burton? I bring all of this up to awaken the population to the fact that there is a very large contingency of visually impaired individuals that most of us never notice. These are people who exist in the margins of society and go unnoticed and underappreciated as consumers, as participants in society. This article is all about access, and how important access is to this very large, very marginalized population. This is where Aira comes in. This is where their push for Aira Access locations isn't just good business…it should be common sense. Aira is breaking the mold when it comes to establishing access for the blind and visually impaired. If you have spent any time reading the many articles I have written about Aira then you know that it has freed me in ways that I never thought possible. What I haven’t, until now, written about are the strategic partnerships Aira is entering into. Companies like Intuit make it possible for Aira users to access their platforms free of charge with their small business offer. Companies like Walgreens have made all of their locations Aira Access points allowing Aira users to shop at their locations free of charge. Companies like AT&T have done the same allowing Aira users to visit their stores and expect the same customer experience as their sighted peers. Universities are adopting Aira Access Points allowing visually impaired students to experience college completely. And finally, companies like Bank Of America have most recently joined the Access family. All BofA locations are access points for Aira users making it possible for them to accomplish their banking transactions “On their Terms” rather than relying on others for assistance. All of this is free to Aira users.
Companies like those mentioned above recognize the potential of becoming “Inclusive” institutions. They are early adopters to a customer base in the hundreds of millions. Bank of America understands something that my father taught me as a youngster. He would always tell me that, “Whether you make $500 a month or $5,000 a month, it is your money and it means everything to you.” Imagine how important it is for those with vision impairments to be able to bank with confidence, bank on their terms rather than relying on the assistance of friends or bank personnel. Aira and their strategic partnership with BofA give them that, give them the dignity and confidence to tend to the single most important asset they have, their money. Being a diverse company that recognizes the importance of evolving their brands into a dynamically inclusive company should be goal #1 in today’s competitive bussiness environment.
My challenge to my readers who are sighted, encourage the businesses you frequent to adopt Aira Access because visual impairments will touch all of us at some point. Here is my challenge to business. Now that you know, now that you have read the numbers, understand the importance and see the potential of becoming an inclusive business for “ALL” of your customers, what is your excuse for not adopting the Aira Access model. Does it make good business sense to leave almost a billion customers out of your marketing strategy? If you are a transportation company, bank, grocery store, pharmacy, employer, learning institution or any other business you can name, what are you waiting for?
#aira #airaaccess #bankofamerica #bofa #intuit #walgreens #AT&T #inclusion #onmyterms
Picture below is of the Aira Access Locations I visited this weekend. The view is what the live Agents see to provide me with the visual information necessary to navigate the world on my terms.