Smithsonian museums roll out Aira accessibility technology

Photo courtesy of Access Smithsonian

Smithsonian visitors who are blind or have low vision will soon be able to access to innovative and groundbreaking new technology.

Starting this spring, the Smithsonian will roll out Aira technology, which uses guests’ smartphone cameras or smart glasses to get free on-demand verbal descriptions.

Aira blends artificial intelligence and augmented reality, connecting visitors to trained sighted live agents who can remotely view what’s in front of or near the visitor.

The agent helps the visitor to navigate the museum, guiding them to and describing specific objects and whole exhibitions, and leading them to restrooms/toilets, cafes and shops.

Aira, described as having vision in your pocket, will be available at all Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C., as well as the National Zoo.

The new service is provided by Access Smithsonian, which looks after accessibility for visitors to its museums.

“For far too long, museum visitors with vision loss have depended on accompanying friends and family to help them navigate around museums,” said Beth Ziebarth, director of Access Smithsonian.

“Now, with the touch of a button, visitors have instant access that not only helps them engage with the museum but also increases their mobility and independence. In the words of one recent user, ‘This revolutionizes the way people with vision loss experience museums.’”

Smithsonian guests can access Aira by downloading the app to their smartphone or by using Aira smart glasses. Both are free to use.

The museum will still provide ongoing services and materials for blind or low vision visitors, including Braille, large-print brochures and docent-led verbal-description tours.

In addition, talking tactile floor plans are set to be installed at the National Museum of American History.

Ultra accessibility

In 2017, the world’s first theme park designed with special-needs individuals in mind opened a revolutionary ultra-accessible splash park.

Morgan’s Wonderland is the only non-profit theme park on Trip Advisor’s ‘Top 25 Amusement Parks – United States’. Admission for those with special-needs is free.

Gordon Hartman, CEO and founder of Morgan’s Wonderland, previously spoke to Blooloop. He explained how a simple dream of inclusion for his daughter lead to this one-of-a kind destination.

Image and video: Aira