Press Release: MBTA Launches AccessAI Pilot Connecting Blind and Low Vision Users with Human Artificial Intelligence Technology

For Immediate Release:

May 3, 2019

MBTA Media Contact:

lisa.battiston@dot.state.ma.us

Aira Media Contact:

accessAI@kristinphelan.com

MBTA Launches AccessAI Pilot Connecting Blind and Low Vision Users with Human Artificial Intelligence Technology

Aira’s technology, services will be free to users throughout the MBTA bus, subway, Commuter Rail, and ferry system during the six-month pilot that began May 1.

BOSTON – Today the MBTA announced the launch of a free six-month accessibility technology pilot called “AccessAI” featuring Aira’s human artificial intelligence (human AI) technology at a kick-off event held at Government Center Station with General Manager Steve Poftak, Assistant General Manager of System-wide Accessibility Laura Brelsford, Aira Co-Founder and CEO Suman Kanuganti, and Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired Executive Director Sassy Outwater-Wright. Local officials including Representative Kay Khan, the House Chair of the Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities, and Representative Josh Cutler, the House Vice-Chair of the Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities, as well as members of the blind of low vision community were also in attendance.

“Aira allows users to connect to a highly trained agent for live visual information anywhere in the T system’s subway stations, bus stops, Commuter Rail stations, and ferry docks. This service will be offered for free during this six-month pilot,” said MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak. “The T is always looking for creative ways to make our system as accessible as possible for everyone, and we look forward to hearing from our customers about their AccessAI experience.”

“Aira is passionate about transforming daily life for people who are blind or low vision, as better mobility leads to a better economy, which impacts everyone positively,” said Aira Co-Founder and CEO Suman Kanuganti. “We are proud to be collaborating with the MBTA on this unprecedented public private partnership. Together, we will increase accessibility on public transit, for communities in Massachusetts, and the world.”

“Technology is outpacing transit infrastructure. This pilot program gives us the opportunity to unite people, technology, and mobility in ways never been tried before. I want to see how far we can go with this,” said Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired Executive Director and Aira Explorer Sassy Outwater-Wright.

Aira connects blind or low vision users with highly trained sighted agents who provide visual information about the user’s surrounding environment—live and on-demand through smartphone video technology. During the six-month pilot that began on May 1, the Aira app will be free to users throughout the MBTA system at all bus stops, subway stations, Commuter Rail stations, and ferry routes.

The MBTA is committed to continuous accessibility improvements that allow customers to use the system as independently as possible. Aira’s visual interpreter service will be available to users for free throughout the MBTA’s subway, bus, ferry, and commuter rail systems during the six-month pilot from May 1 to October 31, 2019. The MBTA will also educate the public about the availability of this service through targeted marketing to Blind Access CharlieCard holders, to The RIDE’s blind or low vision users, and through community engagement with local blind and low vision advocate groups. This pilot comes at no cost to the MBTA.

During the six-month pilot, users will be regularly surveyed on the app’s impacts on their travel patterns with additional data that is gathered available to both the MBTA and Aira. Next steps following the pilot’s conclusion will be determined after this data is analyzed.

Used previously at places including the Perkins School for the Blind and Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI), free access to Aira is also available at Massport’s Boston Logan International Airport and Worcester Regional Airport. Additional Aira Access locations can be found here.

MBTA customers interested in accessing Aira while within the MBTA system are encouraged to visit the MBTA website and AccessAI.today for more information, download the Aira smartphone app, and sign up for training sessions offered by the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired. More information can also be found by connecting with the T on Twitter @MBTA or Aira @airaio.

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