FriendshipWorks: A Light Shines for the Visually Impaired with New Pilot Vision Program

A Light Shines for the Visually Impaired with New Pilot Vision Program

May 14, 2019 by Cara Stuka

This month, Sassy Outwater-Wright was able to commute on the MBTA while pioneering a remarkable six-month pilot program testing a combination of free technology and smart glasses.

Outwater-Wright is the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI). MABVI has partnered with FriendshipWorks on our Elder Low Vision Initiative, providing guidance on how to connect low vision elders with programs and resources, and Outwater-Wright served as a panelist on the Low Vision Forums held by FriendshipWorks.

On May 1st, she was featured in the Boston Globe as she navigated MBTA trains, street crossings, construction, and other aspects of her daily commute from Salem to Brookline, with the help of a mobile app called Aira. This free app, acts as the eyes for a low vision or blind individual providing an extra measure of safety, mobility, and confidence when navigating stairs, street crossings, frequent construction impediments, and train platforms. Individuals may still have seeing eye dogs and white canes, but with the help of the Aira app, people who are blind or have low-vision, can tap on their phone, and be immediately connected with trained agents to guide them via a live stream camera on their commutes in what can often seem like a maze of obstacles. This service provides the individual with assistance on demand and acts as the eyes for the commuter according to Outwater-Wright.

As noted by Aira, because age-related vision loss affects nearly everyone, accessibility to the state’s transportation system is a priority. Important because in Massachusetts, there are more than 130,000 people statewide and 17,000 in Boston affected by low vision or blindness.

Recognizing the increase in people needing more assistance and mobility due to visual challenges, in 2016 FriendshipWorks worked with a team of Low Vision Specialists to create our Elder Low Vision Initiative that pairs low vision elders with trained volunteers to support them. Additionally, FriendshipWorks offers Elder Low Vision workshops to train elder care providers, and a Low Vision Resource Guide. For more information or to make a referral, please visit us at: www.fw4elders.org or call us at 617-482-1510.

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