By Sue Lichtenfels
Every time I read about the Aira service, I think to myself, “That’s such an unusual name. Surely the letters in Aira must be an acronym for the company’s full name.” According to the “About” section of the Aira.io website, the Ai portion stands for artificial intelligence, while the ra stands for remote assistance. In this case you would expect all of the letters to be capitalized, but only the first letter is. The name explanation is a bit off the mark, since the most amazing feature of this service is a direct link to a living human assistant.
For this article, let us create an acronym that accurately describes what Aira is: Access to Immediate Real Assistance. At the press of a button, we can immediately connect to a real, living being to assist us. Furthermore, there are many opportunities to do so without spending a dime. Let us explore how:
To use the Aira service, you need a smartphone, either iPhone or Android. The app is free to download from the App Store and the Google Play Store. When you open the app for the first time, you will need to provide your phone number to register for a free account. You will not be charged for this account. Aira will then text you a verification code for you to enter to confirm that you did request to register. You can literally be ready to get access to immediate real assistance in less than two minutes.
Aira’s business model is to sell visual interpretation services that enable blind and visually impaired individuals to accomplish tasks more easily. Aira provides highly trained and vetted agents who are available 24/7 to answer video calls from people who are blind or visually impaired.
Agents, known as visual interpreters, use the pone’s camera and online research to assist users. Agents can guide, inform, describe, and help users in many different ways. The service makes money by charging for the minutes spent connected to an agent.
Aira sells monthly minute packages to users. Users are referred to as “Explorers.”
Some helpful information for us to know is that companies and organizations sometimes pay for minutes because it is good business practice that improves their public image. These companies or organizations are referred to as “Access Partners.” When these third parties pick up the tab, those of us who cannot afford a monthly Aira plan can get complimentary access to immediate real assistance.
Once you have registered for a free account, you are considered a Guest. On the home screen, click on the “Apply Free Offer” button to find all the offers you can access for free. Offers are separated into three categories: Promotions, Products, and Locations. Most promotion and product offers come with stipulations about how many complimentary minutes you can be connected with an agent and what types of tasks you can get help doing.
When it comes to location offers, there do not seem to be time limits, just physical location boundaries. For example, if you use Aira inside a Target that is attached to a mall, do not expect complimentary service to shop other stores. The list of Aira Access locations shown will depend on your GPS coordinates. If you are curious or want to do some trip planning, you can search other cities using the search field on the Aira Access Locations screen. What follows is information about complimentary offers available at the time of this writing.
First, let me address the one “Free Access” offer that is not officially listed within any of the promotional categories. Aira itself offers one free call, up to five minutes of complimentary visual interpretation of any task. You may call only once within a 24-hour period. If you have a quick task such as checking your makeup application, reading the screen on a mis-behaving appliance, getting feedback on a busy street crossing, finding help to locate a dropped item, or the something similar, Aira welcomes your call. Simply double tap the “Call Aira for Free” button on the home screen to connect to an agent.
When I browsed the “Promotions, Limited-time and On-going Promotions” category in late February, five offers were displayed:
- Job seekers can access Aira for up to 30 minutes per call when seeking visual feedback during any aspect of the job-seeking process.
- Intuit offers complimentary service for small business owners and those who are self-employed. It sponsors up to 30 minutes of Aira assistance with almost any kind of business-related tasks.
- Aira offers up to 15 minutes free for demonstration purposes so users can show employers, others with vision loss, or anyone else interested in Aira how the service works.
- Access to online viewing of virtual exhibits at SheddAquarium.org. A
- The last offer in this category ran through February for Black History Month. Free Aira assistance was made available to anyone seeking access to explore either physically or virtually hundreds of sites within the Association of African American Museums (AAAM). The network directory is at aaam.org.
At the time of this writing, even more offers were available in the products category. Vispero, retailer of JAWS, Zoomtext, and Magic, provides Aira Access up to 30 minutes for technology-related issues. Target.com provides complimentary Aira service to shop its website without a posted minute limit. VHL Central offers up to 60 minutes for visual assistance with their online language learning courses. QuickBooks provides up to 30 minutes per call to provide assistance with any task related to using the QuickBooks program. Nationwide Insurance and Nationwide Pet Insurance Offer Free access to anyone using their websites, digital documents, and mobile apps. Aira assistance is free to users with tasks related to using Brightspace software. D2L Brightspace is a learning platform.
Complimentary Aira Access for shopping, navigation, and entertainment is available in many locations throughout Pennsylvania and the country. When you arrive at these Aira Access sites, find the offer for that specific location, and activate it to connect with an Aira Agent who can assist throughout your visit. National chains include Walgreens, Target, Bank of America, AT&T, Wegman’s, and Fresh Thyme Market.
Aira Access sites include these tourist locations in Pennsylvania: John Heinz History Center, Erie Maritime Museum, Landis Valley Farm and Village, Old Economy Village, Pennsylvania Military Museum, Railroad Museum of PA, and the State Museum of Pennsylvania.
Aira Agents can also help you navigate the Capitol complex in Harrisburg for free. You can visit for a tour, meet with a legislator, or attend an event. Complimentary Aira access is also available at the Philadelphia International Airport and more than 40 other airports across the country. Often, Aira provides free access at in-person conferences for the blind including ACB and PCB.
If you find that having access to immediate real assistance is a service you want whenever and wherever you are, there may still be time to take advantage of a very special offer. The University of California, Irvine and Toyota North American Motors (TNAM) are partnering to sponsor persons with vision disabilities a free, 500-minute, monthly AIRA subscription from October 2020, through August 2021. The project has allocated funds to provide 600 AIRA subscriptions to interested individuals with visual disabilities. As of the writing of this article, there were still subscriptions remaining. The short form to request one of these subscriptions is at tinyurl.com/freeairasub.
If you cannot access the free subscription, you can read about plans, minutes, and costs on Aira.io or call Aira for more information at 800-835-1934. Admittedly, the service is expensive. Perhaps a local Lions Club would be willing to help with funds toward a monthly plan. Maybe your local church or scout troop would help raise funds through a special event. The Veterans Administration may also offer benefits that include Aira. Online services like GoFundMe which utilize social media asks are also popular ways to raise money for specific needs. As advocates, we can all be working to expand the free Aira Access network for all peers by educating companies we do business with about the marketing rewards they can reap by sponsoring complimentary service at their locations.
In summary, peers lucky enough to have smartphones have complimentary access to immediate real assistance at their fingertips. Within the Aira app, three categories of offers are available across the sectors of learning, shopping, banking, traveling, touring, working, job-seeking, technology troubleshooting, and more. In addition, guests can make one free call every 24 hours for help with any quick, under five-minute task. Even as a guest using a free offer, peers connect to the same top-notch, highly trained agents as paying peers do. Download the app and start utilizing complementary access to immediate assistance today!