Radio Interview: Dianna Leonard Talks Aira MBTA Pilot on Council Connection

Council Connection is a monthly radio show featuring events, issues, and human interest stories from a BSCB perspective. The show airs on the first Thursday of every month at 8:00 PM Eastern on the Talking Information Center Network, and on the second Tuesday of the month at 9:00 p.m. Eastern on ACB Radio Mainstream.

July’s show includes a feature interview with Access AI team member, Dianna Leonard, who discusses all aspects of the Access AI pilot program including what types of activities people are using Aira for FREE within the MBTA stations.

Listen to Dianna’s interview to learn more.

Testimonial: Proudly at Pride

Proudly at Pride

Written by Ashley “ShortShady”

If you know me, you know I’m not much of a morning person, but Saturday morning came and I was ready to go! The day started with a pre-pride brunch lead by the fabulous AccessAI team and Boston City Counselor Michelle Wu. AccessAI, a local pilot program which allows for Aira access throughout our transit system, also allowed for free usage throughout pride, and I, like many others, gathered to connect with and support this strong team. Located near the start of the march, we all decked out with swag, enjoying breakfast sandwiches and copious amounts of coffee before snapping a few photos and setting out for Boston Pride.

Here, I used that same Aira program to grab a train and make for City Hall where the marchers would finish. Although I had never used the program and am not familiar with the train system, this success was invigorating and empowering; the perfect setup for the perfect pride mindset. At city hall plaza, music was pumping and people were everywhere! The energy was contagious, with friendly strangers aproaching, chatting and even describing some of the festival that surrounded us from what enders were where to the various creative outfits worn by celebratory participants. Finally, an announcement was made to find a spot to stand out of the parade route in preparation for the countless marchers to come through.

Standing in a crowd of eager cheerers, I loaded Aira again. This time, I was ready for descriptions of the people marching by. Excitement grew as they aproached, with people all around clapping and chanting and yelling! Finally the groups came one by one, with banners and flags, brightly colored clothing, streamers and all sorts of decorative creations. The groups spanned all ages and capabilities; children, grandparents, people in wheelchairs, on bikes, of all ethnicities and even with pets. Some played or performed music as they passed, while others handed out strings of colored beads, flags or fans for the summer heat. With every group that went, we clapped, cheered, and waved, calling out the words on their signs or simply, “Happy pride!”

When it was over, the plaza was teaming with marchers and watchers alike, returning to its social upbeat atmosphere. All around were people moving to nearby shops or festival events. For me, it was time for another cup of coffee in a local coffee shop where I again chatted with the various attendees that filled the space. Then, it was off for some much-desired dinner and finally to make my way home.

My first pride experience was inspiring and uplifting, showing me the strength of the local LGBT community and those beyond. We are people of all backgrounds, and we are proud to be the uniquely diverse individuals we are. The world in which we live is a mostly safe and accepting one, but there is still plenty of work to be done and that extends far beyond an event which occurs one day a year. Experiencing this year’s pride has given me the motivation to be even more active and outspoken in our fight for understanding, equal and safe conditions. Yes, I’m proud to have been part of Boston Pride, and will most certainly be back next year.

iAccessibility.net: Seeing On Your Own Schedule – My Experiences as an Aira Back to School Recipient

Seeing On Your Own Schedule – My Experiences as an Aira Back to School Recipient

By Lauren Bishop | May 29th, 2019

When Aira originally gained popularity among the blind community, I glossed over the posts in my Facebook news feed and emails concerning the product. I had been living on my own for a while, I was cooking my own meals and I had good travel skills. If I needed to read the instructions for a box of food, or adjust my thermostat, I could just call Bee My Eyes, a free service that connects blind people in need of visual information to a wide network of volunteers twenty-four hours a day. It was free and it worked. I did not start to pay attention to Aira until a close friend of mine got the Back To School scholarship. She is a competent and very independent blind person. When she thought she could benefit from it, I wondered how it would benefit me.

Fast forward a few months to the 2018 convention of the National Federation of the Blind, a site access location for Aira. During the convention, I could take Aira for a test drive at no cost to me. I fondly remember arriving to my hotel room, and noticing that it was much too hot for my liking, I decided to give Aira the old college try. After setting up a free account, I called an agent for the first time. After answering a few questions about myself, and listening to the disclaimer that Aira sessions would be terminated if I was not using my mobility tool outside my living arrangement and that agents could not tell me if a situation was safe, I completed my first task. The agent helped me set my thermostat. That first call got me hooked. The agent I interacted with was focussed on me. She was happy and energetic. At that point in time, she was focussed on me and only me. She knew how to help me orient my phone so she could see the thermostat clearly, and best of all, in a matter of seconds, my room began to cool off and I was comfortable. Although the volunteers at Bee My Eyes want to help, they lack the professional training that Aira provides to their staff, and since the volunteers are not being paid, they are not on call like Aira staff. They may be in the middle of something when they pick up your call.

In August of 2018, I applied and was accepted to the Back To School program, where I received 200 Aira minutes a month; as well as a pair of Horizon glasses. Although I did not think the glasses looked good, I put them on anyway, and discovered a whole new world.

Aira could do so much more than Be My Eyes. Agents engaged in several TeamViewer sessions, which enabled me to ensure that assignments with formatting requirements were presentable and enabled me to access inaccessible assignments and websites on my own terms. I no longer had to schedule readers and have a rigid agenda for completing assignments. My school life was on my own terms.

My use of Aira was not limited to academics. One of the most thrilling experiences with Aira was having an agent describe Disney’s fireworks display from the fourteenth floor observation deck of Disney’s Contemporary Resort. I can see fireworks, but they only look like colorful lights to me, and it has to be dark for me to see them. I have discovered that I can see the fireworks from that location; however, Aira’s description proved to me that I was missing a lot. I had no idea that Disney made all kinds of designs with their fireworks, and how vivid the colors were. The agent who described the fireworks was amazing! She was energetic throughout the show, and she maintained my attention the whole time. I knew what colors the fireworks were, that they were making stars and other designs in the sky, and that Cinderella’s castle was the focal point of the display. I practically had tears in my eyes throughout her description. Family and friends are always willing to describe things for me, but they want to enjoy the display and take pictures too. Aira’s descriptions are top-of-the-line.

I would encourage anyone to give Aira a try. Locations such as many major airports, Walgreens, and the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) are only a few site access locations where anyone can try Aira for free. In addition, both the American Counsel of the Blind and National Federation of the Blind state and national conventions are site access locations, and Aira representatives are available so customers can ask questions, test drive the glasses, and sign up if they want to.


An important thing to remember about Aira is that it does not substitute solid travel, technology, and daily living skills. The product is simply available to provide visual information, but in all situations, the explorer drives the session. An agent will not tell you when it is safe to cross the street, nor will they complete your homework for you. They will help you navigate to a destination and tell you when the light is in your favor if they can see it, and they are happy to help you format a document, but you have to be the one to tell them what to click on, and where you want things to be positioned in a document. With Aira in your toolbox, you will no longer have to wait on someone to help you with the visual aspects of life, you can get assistance at the touch of a button.