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ATU502 – Aira with Jenine Stanley

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Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.

Show Notes:
Jenine Stanley – Explorer Community Manager with Aira
Find out more about Aira:
Web site: www.aira.io
Customer Care: 1.800.835.1934
Customer Care email: support@aira.io
Podcast: Airacast
INDATA Full Day Trainings:
List of trainings available: https://bit.ly/3472bK7
Link to Register for Jan Training: https://bit.ly/3oR4iJX

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If you have an AT question, leave us a voice mail at: 317-721-7124 or email tech@eastersealscrossroads.org
Check out our web site: http://www.eastersealstech.com
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————————- Transcript Starts Here —————————

Jenine Stanley:
Hi, I’m Jenine Stanley, the Explorer Community Manager with Aira And this is your Assistive Technology Update.

Josh Anderson:
Hello and welcome to your Assistive Technology Update a weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist individuals with disabilities and special needs. I’m your host, Josh Anderson with the INDATA Project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis, Indiana.

Josh Anderson:
Welcome to episode 502 of Assistive Technology Update. It is scheduled to be released on January 8th, 2021. On today’s show, we’re very excited to have Jenine Stanley, the Explorer Community Manager for Aira, on to talk about everything great going on with Aira. Without any further delays, let’s go ahead and get on with the show.

Josh Anderson:
Folks, have you ever been interested in attending one of our INDATA full day trainings? Well, we have one coming up on January 19th from 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM. Where members of the PATINS Project here in Indiana will present on Assistive Technology Tools and Supports for Remote Learning. We will put a link over to the show notes where you can go and register for this trainings, as well as the link to find out about our upcoming trainings for the rest of the year. Of course, due to COVID, all of these trainings will be completely online. But if you do register and attend the trainings you can get CEUs. So again, we’ll put links to these over in our show notes.

Josh Anderson:
So a little over a year ago, we were lucky enough to have a representative from Aira on to talk about their technology and how we can assist individuals with vision loss. [inaudible 00:01:41] with most technologies, there’ve been a lot of new exciting developments and programs coming to Aira and we’re excited to have them back on the show today. I’m super excited to welcome Jenine Stanley, Explorer Community Manager to Assistive Technology Update to tell us all about Aira and how it can help out folks. Jenine, welcome to the show.

Jenine Stanley:
Hi, there, Josh.

Josh Anderson:
Well, I’m really excited to meet you and to get to learn all about IRA, but could you start off by telling our listeners a little bit about yourself and your background?

Jenine Stanley:
Sure. Well, I am a longtime resident of Columbus, Ohio, and my background is in Assistive Technology since, I hate to say this, but since the 1980s and I have actually worked in a lot of fields in my life. And before I got this job at Aira, I worked for the Guide Dog Foundation, which is a guidance service dog training school. So I’ve had a long career in disability-related types of employment.

Josh Anderson:
Not really that, but really in helping people get around.

Jenine Stanley:
Absolutely. So it’s all about the independence and the self-determination.

Josh Anderson:
It really is. And when people, well, usually when I tell them I work in assistive technology, if they don’t know what that is, they say, “Oh, IT,” which I’m like, “No, it’s completely different.” But when they really ask me, I’m like, “Well, I guess it’s about independence. That’s the the main thing.”

Jenine Stanley:
Absolutely.

Josh Anderson:
Well, Jenine, let’s get into talking about Aira. Let’s start off with just the basics. What is Aira?

Jenine Stanley:
So Aira is a visual interpreting service, and this is kind of a new category of service. And we’re not the only people in this space, but we are the only people doing it at the level that we’re doing it. And visual interpreting is sort of like sign language interpreting, but it doesn’t involve a particular language, it involves a set of tasks that allows you to get information about your visual world or get information that’s related to some visual task. And that can be just about anything you can think of from navigating to looking at the layout of a page, looking at an inaccessible website, reading something, helping with cooking by telling you, “Okay, that’s brown. Now you can flip it.” Things like that, or even finding something that you’ve dropped on the floor.

Jenine Stanley:
So there’s a pretty wide range of visual tasks that we can help with. And although our app does say for blind and low vision, we don’t have any qualifiers. So, if you have something like a sensory processing disorder and you find yourself at times when you’re a little overwhelmed and the senses are not functioning the way you might need them to, Aira can definitely help you. And we have trained agents who are employed by Aira and they go through quite a bit of training and confidentiality agreements, bonding, all of those kinds of things. And then we’ve got a number of layers of privacy to put between you and our agents, so that you’ve got that trust in the relationship as well.

Josh Anderson:
And I know even when I first started learning about Aira, the agents was kind of the thing that set them apart a little bit. So you were talking about some of the training skills and the tools that they have. What are some of maybe the tools they can use in order to be able to help me, let’s say, with navigation, just to pick one off the top of my head.

Jenine Stanley:
Sure. Well, absolutely. The very first tool, of course, is the video camera on your phone. That’s how the agents are going to look at your world through that video camera. Now, probably about a year ago, when you talked to us, we had our Horizon Glasses and those were hooked physically to an old Galaxy J7 phone, that technology, we outgrew it very quickly and operating systems outgrew it very quickly. So we no longer have the glasses. We discontinued those back in March, which was like the perfect storm. “Yeah. Let’s discontinue a product. Oh, when now we have a pandemic, wow.”

Jenine Stanley:
So, it’s been quite a year for Aira, but I think we were able to really come out of it by being able to really utilize multi-camera systems on phones. And that includes Android and iOS. We’re still working through some of the challenges of Android, but certainly being able to see through that phone camera. And then in order to navigate, our agents can pull up things like Google Maps. They can pull up transit schedules. They can use Google Earth and Google Street View and a number of tools like that to give you the big picture of where you are. Store maps are a big one when we were out doing that kind of thing and still there are some people who are. And so being able to pull up that store map to get you around and help you figure out where things are in a store is often a tool that they use.

Josh Anderson:
And that’s a tool I think I could use sometimes. I mean, especially now that we’re not going to the store as much as we used to, I swear they move everything on me and I’ve got a plan and I get there and they move it all.

Jenine Stanley:
Yes, well and-

Josh Anderson:
But that’s a tool… You know what, talking about businesses and stuff, you brought up something that I really wanted to talk about and was excited to talk about, because I don’t believe this was around last time and that’s the Aira Access Network. Tell me about that.

Jenine Stanley:
Yeah, that has been since, I believe it was 2017, when we had our first access location. And the way this service works really to give you access in public places, it’s great. When businesses, corporations, companies of all sizes actually will pay for this service for you so that when you’re in their facility or when you’re using their product, the service is paid for.

Jenine Stanley:
And the biggest example this year was Target. We have been doing a pilot project with the Target stores in limited release for years. But this year they went full scale. And about a month ago they went full scale with their website too, Target.com. So this was huge, because you can spend as much time as you needed in a Target store or now on the website getting your shopping done. And with social distancing, that’s become a giant thing, because it’s really difficult, guide dogs don’t social distance well.

Josh Anderson:
No, they do not.

Jenine Stanley:
And they’re learning. Some people are working it out, but it’s a tough skill and with a cane, oh my goodness, you’re managing the grocery cart and the cane and it can be a lot. And knowing what those aisles, if they have directional markings on them, you don’t want to be the person going the wrong way. And so, that’s become a big deal. We also have a couple of grocery stores, Meijer and Fresh Thyme are in the Midwest here. I’m sure you have Meijer stores where you are. They are an Aira Access partner. So you can go into Meijer and to get your shopping done too.

Josh Anderson:
That’s Excellent. I knew about a few of those. Now, I did not know about Target online and I can see how that could be a huge help, especially for folks who are maybe not real tech savvy, so they’re maybe used to doing that shopping on their own or maybe with sighted assistance or some other way. And then having to try to navigate that on a computer. And for the business, I can see how that’s huge, because as I’ve always said, when businesses accept assistive technology, I’m always like, “Well, that’s more customers for them.”

Jenine Stanley:
You’ve got it. Exactly.

Josh Anderson:
So it’s a win-win in all situations.

Jenine Stanley:
Exactly. And you’d be amazed how many people just say, “Oh, it’s so much more, it’s so much easier.” Because the target website is really good at accessibility. They really have a great team over there. However, no matter how well you describe something, sometimes you just need that human intervention to describe, say, a skirt or a sweater design. I went for Ugly Christmas Sweaters this year and had a lot of fun with an agent getting descriptions of all the various sweater designs. And I ended up with some fun things as a result.

Jenine Stanley:
So it just makes, I am now much more likely to just pull up the Target site, get an agent via the TeamViewer app, which is another one of our big tools that we use. And they then have remote access to my computer through a VPN, of course, so that they don’t maintain that information. But they’ve got that remote access. They can go in, they can look around, they can get me to the fields I need, fill out the form when I’m ready to check out, all those great things.

Josh Anderson:
Nice. So you’re not having to actually hold the phone camera up and then try to show them the screen.

Jenine Stanley:
Yes.

Josh Anderson:
There is a huge help. Because I know with website accessibility, of course this year, that’s probably coming in the limelight more than ever before. Sometimes, like you said, some things are very accessible and you can get it, but sometimes you get stuck, stuck on the picture or something else, maybe the description isn’t there or, I even think of, “Yeah, I can get my credit card number in, but I can’t get to where those three little digits go,” or something like that.

Jenine Stanley:
And then they’ve coded that checkout button wrong. And so it doesn’t appear and it’s something you’ve got to do a mouse over, or you’ve got to land on it exactly right with your mouse versus something else. And if you can just get an agent to come on, click that button for you and away you go.

Josh Anderson:
What a great help. Because, I mean, it’s terrible if you think you ordered these things, they never show up or God forbid you ordered them three times.

Jenine Stanley:
Yes.

Josh Anderson:
And just having that sighted assistance with somebody actually being able to give you an opinion. Because, like you said, with an ugly sweater, it might say, “Blue ugly sweater with snowflakes.” Well, is it light blue? Is it dark blue? Just to be able to have that little bit of extra can really be helpful. Well, that’s really awesome. And then you guys also have a program to help out JAWS users. Is that correct? How does that work?

Jenine Stanley:
Yes. And this is one of our product offers, where if you have a product like JAWS or ZoomText or Fusion or one of the other products that Vispero has, and it’s not working. This is one of those, you hope you never have to use it, but. If your computer has gone silent, because JAWS is stuck on something or something just is not working, you can pull your Aira agents up, let them know what you’re looking at, they can then describe your screen to you and [inaudible 00:11:54] get out of some of these situations where the screen reader hangs up or the large print is just stuck on a screen and you’re not sure how to get it to go where you need it to go.

Jenine Stanley:
Now it’s not to solve accessibility problems on websites, things that JAWS won’t read, but otherwise works okay. It’s for when your software gets stuck. But we have another big partner in Intuit, the maker of QuickBooks. And so, if you are a small business person that uses QuickBooks, Intuit has a great small business offer that [inaudible 00:12:27] you can have Aira assistance free when you’re using QuickBooks. So, that’s really helpful. And we’ll have another big announcement with Intuit here very soon.

Josh Anderson:
That’s great. Because, especially, I’ve known a lot of folks who are blind or low vision who run their own business, just because… Well, I mean, they are very independent. I’ve had to maybe work a little bit harder the whole time, so why not? But yeah, just to have that extra tool. And I know when you talk about JAWS, I can remember nine times out of 10, it’s some stupid pop-up somewhere that for some reason you could not get the JAWS cursor to and it doesn’t read it, because that pop-up is not accessible and all you really need to do is click okay or click cancel, but that’s impossible to do if you’re not using a mouse.

Josh Anderson:
So, that’s great. That is great. Because as I said, I know that’s the main issue that I’ve seen. And what we’ve talked about, the special programs and stuff. You also have a special program for veterans through the VA. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Jenine Stanley:
We do. And actually that program is shifting and it is shifting to the Blinded Veterans Association from the VA, since we don’t have the glasses anymore, the glasses were the big draw for the VA, because of course the VA is about equipment. But we do have special plans out there for veterans. And if you call our customer care team, we are in the process of setting that up through the BVA. So if you’re interested in a veterans plan, give us a call and we can tell you how you can get in touch and be eligible for that plan.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. And as you talk about plans and stuff, can you tell us just what is the difference between a guest user and someone that you guys would call an explorer?

Jenine Stanley:
Sure. And we call our customers explorers. We had, and we started it in August of 2019 to increase people’s usage of Aira. And it was such a good idea that it really did increase people’s usage. And that was that the first five minutes of every call was free. Well, we discovered that many tasks average out at about seven minutes per task. So you can imagine we had a lot of short calls in there that were not sustainable. And this August, about a year after we actually started the program, we dialed that back a bit so that someone who did not have a plan, would get one free five minute call every 24 hours, they could try the system.

Jenine Stanley:
They can also use any of the Access offers. You don’t have to have a paid plan to use those Access offers. So you can go on to Target.com, you can pick up the JAWS offer, use the Intuit offer, whatever you need. Or if you’re in, say, a Walgreens or an airport, you can pull up the Aira app and use it free if they’re an access location. So, that’s the free side.

Jenine Stanley:
But then if you want a little bit more or maybe need a little bit more, you can actually buy a monthly plan with Aira. And we have plans that start as low as $20 a month if you belong to an organization, for 30 minutes at a time, and they go up to as high as 199 per month for 300 minutes of Aira, and you can also buy extra minutes from within the app, if you have a paid plan. So we have a lot of ways for you to access the technology and be able to use it.

Jenine Stanley:
But then we’re also happy to talk to your employer if Aira is something that you use on your job and as part of your job. We have a number of employers from state and federal government, county government. We have actually one county in Kansas that is an IRA Access location. We’ve got the city of Milwaukee, the city of Miami Beach. So, there are all kinds of employers out there. Universities, if you are a student, your university can look at offering Aira, Ohio state does that, University of Indiana is on board, they also provide IRA for their students.

Jenine Stanley:
And we’ve got a number of colleges and universities around the country that do that as well. So there are lots of ways to get free Aira, but if you want more, we do have the paid plans.

Josh Anderson:
And I’m glad you brought up universities. I have seen that in different news stories. And I think about, I’ve got a niece who just started her first year of college and have also a cousin who just started his first year of college, which there’s probably no year that’s worse to probably start your first year of college.

Jenine Stanley:
My goodness, yes. I had a nephew just graduated from college.

Josh Anderson:
Goodness. Well, thank goodness. He’s getting done at that kind of time. And I just know, I mean, it’s been a while, of course, since I was in college, but them just talking about how it’s so hard to get around and it’s new and you just left your parents home. So being able to have Aira and have that as a tool at school, that’d just be great, because trying to figure it out-

Jenine Stanley:
Absolutely. And there are so many restrictions now with, of course, COVID and ways to enter buildings and social distancing. And then you have your distance learning students, who are having to master all kinds of new software in some cases, not a lot of campuses will do the distance learning and some of them have worked it out, but we do have partnerships with Brightspace, D2L Brightspace and VHL, Vista Higher Learning. So if those are the platforms that you’re using at your university, you can use those free with Aira.

Josh Anderson:
That’s nice. Because, especially, and colleges have always done a pretty good job with accessibility or about as good as any other place, but you’re always relying on the teacher and how accessible are they making their materials and everything. So even just being able to have that a little bit of extra help when you need it, can just make a whole world of difference. Jenine, you kind of started talking about this, but I want to get into just a little bit more if we can, what’s on the horizon? What’s coming next for Aira?

Jenine Stanley:
Oh boy.

Josh Anderson:
Is there anything you can tell us that isn’t going to get you in trouble?

Jenine Stanley:
Well, let’s see, 2021 is going to be a really interesting year. I was just in a meeting before this interview where we were talking about LIDAR and the implications of LIDAR for blind and low vision people. And the new features of people identification with the iOS devices, some of the Android features that are out there, and how do live human beings meld into that space? And where on the body does one put a camera for visual interpretation? Is it best on your head? Is it something that you should be able to grab and move around?

Jenine Stanley:
And that really has some implications for people with additional disabilities to blindness. And so, how are we doing this? We do have a partner as yet to be announced, but should be soon, who has used our software as a person who’s deaf, because she said social distancing was really difficult if she couldn’t hear someone yelling at her about instructions and things like that, this was a problem.

Jenine Stanley:
And she was able to get with our agents, because we have a texting feature in the app where you can text back and forth to your agent. And our deaf blind customers really appreciate that feature. And she was able to use that to get information about going into a store and being able to interact with people and things like that. So, the possibilities are endless out there. And I think we’re just going to keep looking at what technology seems to meet people’s needs in the best way and meld things together. We were just talking about that what’s 2021 going to be like

Josh Anderson:
I think everybody’s been talking about that, but just waiting to see. Well, and I know you guys, like you said, have made a pretty big shift because I know the glasses, even when I first heard about Aira, I think it was the old Google Glass, I think, that was being used originally.

Jenine Stanley:
Yes. We started out with Google Glass. In fact, I had one of the Google Glasses when I came on in 2017 and then we changed to a brand called Austria, which was a bit different. And then we went to making our own glasses, which proved to be quite a business load actually, it was difficult to find the right equipment to go together and now that’s all obsolete.

Jenine Stanley:
But what that did was really let us show off the way we help people navigate, because people were going through airports, I certainly went through a lot of airports back in the day, with the glasses and various combinations of technology. And that was wonderful. And then COVID came along and we totally shifted our navigation. Now that navigation is coming back as something that people are doing.

Jenine Stanley:
But as we go through these kinds of expansion and contraction cycles with COVID, people are doing much more online. They’re doing much more around their homes, much more homeschooling for the kids. Boy, that’s been a big one for our customers trying to figure out homeschooling. So, we’ve really had to shift our agent training and our agent preparation to keep up with all of that.

Josh Anderson:
Well, I’m sure. Yeah, everyone’s had to shift a little bit, but yeah, I like the way you guys have progressed and found different ways to still do the same service and be able to provide everything to your customers, but also listening to their input I’m sure. It continues to drive your model and drive what you guys are doing.

Jenine Stanley:
Absolutely. We have a monthly conference call, a Zoom call for our customers and that is live on our YouTube channel now. We’re doing a lot on our YouTube channel live. And one of our fun things that we started as part of our cultural awareness of the black community and of other minority communities, we actually started something we call afternoon at the museum and we’re expanding that in 2021 to encompass a number of different museums. But this is every other Friday, it is live on YouTube for an hour. You get to go to a museum with one of our customers and one of our agents and look at the online content.

Jenine Stanley:
And so many people think, “Ugh, museums online, boring, inaccessible, not going to happen.” And we’ve really made this fun. And I’ll tell you, Black History Month is coming up in February and we are going to go weekly that month with a bunch of really fun content. So stay tuned and you can subscribe to our YouTube channel. We are at youtube.com/airaio, A-I-R-A-I-O.

Josh Anderson:
Perfect. We’ll put that over in the show notes so folks can find it. And Jenine, just before we get done here, can you tell me a story or maybe two about someone who’s been assisted by Aira maybe in a way that you guys didn’t think it’d be used?

Jenine Stanley:
Oh boy.

Josh Anderson:
And I know you probably have a ton, unfortunately, we’re only so long of the show.

Jenine Stanley:
Oh my gosh, we have so many of these. Pick your task. Everything from planning a wedding, we’ve had a couple of weddings now that have actually been Aira live events, which is where somebody will put their event on what we call live status. And in the app there’s a live tab at the bottom of the screen and you can actually tune into people’s live presentations. Getting the new year’s eve festivities described, going out and looking at Christmas lights, all these things.

Jenine Stanley:
Oh my goodness. Probably some of the most fun activities that people do, and I’ve done a couple of these myself, are putting together things like maybe Christmas gifts or furniture, it’s the big joke that doing an IKEA session is like a rite of passage for our agents, that and helping clean up dog messes, because believe it or not sometimes you miss a piece or two and you need a little help. And please do not ever feel badly about asking our agents to do that, because they have no problem with it at all.

Josh Anderson:
Jenine, it’s been a pleasure talking to you today. If our listeners want to find out more about Aira besides the YouTube channel, what are some other ways they can do that?

Jenine Stanley:
Sure. Well, they can, first of all, visit our website and that is www.aira.io. That’s A-I-R-A.io. You can follow us on Twitter, twitter.com/airaio, all one word there at the end, A-I-R-A.I-O. Same thing for Facebook, facebook.com/airaio. We also have, if you download the app, you will see we have an email list and we have a WhatsApp group as well for our customers. So you are more than welcome to subscribed to those groups. And then we have a podcast called Airacast, A-I-R-A-C-A-S-T, and that is available through all of your standard podcast channels. And that podcast is, we put it out, we try to do something every week or so, and it may be a rerun of some of our afternoon at the museum episodes, our explorer calls, monthly calls, things like that. And finally, our customer service number in the US and Canada is 1-800-835-1934 and email is support@aira.io.

Josh Anderson:
Well, we will put all that over into the show notes. Well, Jenine, thank you so much for coming on today and telling us all about Aira and all the great things that it has to offer.

Jenine Stanley:
You were so welcome, Josh. I love the program and we are happy to be here and happy to come back anytime you’ll have us.

Josh Anderson:
Do you have a question about assistive technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? If you do, call our listener line at 317-721-7124. Shoot us a note on Twitter @INDATAproject, or check us out on Facebook. Are you looking for a transcript or show notes? Head on over to our website at wwww.eastersealstech.com. Assistive Technology Update is a proud member of the Accessibility Channel. For more shows like this, plus so much more, head over to accessibilitychannel.com. The views expressed by our guests are not necessarily that of this host or the INDATA Project. This has been your Assistive Technology Update. I’m Josh Anderson with the INDATA Project at Easterseals Crossroads in Indianapolis, Indiana. Thank you so much for listening and we’ll see you next time.

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