Lost on Campus? Need Help Reading a Textbook? It’s Aira to the Rescue.

The Aira app is free to use by anyone on the campus grounds of Rutgers–New Brunswick.
The Aira app is free to use by anyone on the campus grounds of Rutgers–New Brunswick.
Photo illustration by Jeff Arban/Rutgers University

The app provides free around-the-clock, person-to-person visual interpreting services to anyone at Rutgers–New Brunswick

The next SparkNight, a free monthly art party at the Zimmerli Art Museum, celebrates Disability Awareness Month and will feature an Aira representative to talk about the Aira app and its free services. SparkNight is set from 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 5, at the Zimmerli, 71 Hamilton St., New Brunswick.

Navigating Rutgers University–New Brunswick might prove an arduous task for those who are blind, have low vision or are struggling with directions. Enter Aira, which provides free visual interpreting services to anyone on campus. 

Aira – available 24/7 wherever there is an internet connection – initially was created to provide on-demand visual interpreting for people who are blind or with low vision, but the services can be used by anyone seeking access to visual information, said Carlie Andrews, senior director of the Office of Disability Services at Rutgers–New Brunswick. 

The Aria app, available on smartphones, tablets and computers, offers around-the-clock, person-to-person visual interpreting services – from reading textbooks or prescription labels to guiding students taking the bus from College Avenue to Livingston. The services are free to anyone (students, faculty, staff and visitors) on the Rutgers–New Brunswick campus, with the possibility of rolling out to other Rutgers campuses in the future.  

Andrews discussed the partnership between Aira and the university and how the app can help members of the Rutgers community. 

What is the partnership between Rutgers–New Brunswick and Aira? How did it come about? 

Rutgers is an Aira access partner, which means that anyone who sets foot within its physical space is able to use Aira services for free.  

I learned about the program at a conference where I met a woman who is blind and an Aira user. She was telling me about the service and how she uses Aira and finds it tremendously helpful. I reached out to some other folks who are Aira access partners, which includes some other institutions in the Big Ten to learn more about it and folks for the most part only had positive things to say. 

Who might benefit from using the Aira app?

The app’s primary customer base is individuals who are blind or low vision, but I personally see that Aira has a lot of uses that go well beyond that.  

We work with several students who either have traumatic brain injury or something else that inhibits or prohibits their ability to use a screen for too long. And there's software out there that will help with that, but that software can sometimes take a very long time to learn how to use. With the Aira app, if you're not able to spend a lot of time on the computer but you've got to get your assignment done or you've got to get through these readings, you can call an Aira agent and they will read to you whatever you need to read. 

The app may be potentially helpful for individuals on the autism spectrum. One of the aspects that is nice about Aira is that because you are using a personal electronic device, they're able to locate where you are within a given space. And because we're an Aira access partner, they have maps of our campus. So, if someone were to contact Aira and were lost, for instance, the agent would be able to help them figure out where they are and how to get to where they need to go.  

Aira representatives have access to our bus schedules, so if someone was on a bus and not sure where they were going or where they were going to end up, an Aira agent would be able to pull up a schedule and help them.

What’s an example of how the Aira app might aid Rutgers–New Brunswick students?  

I think what's fascinating is that Aira really focuses on the ways the service could help somebody in their personal life, whether sorting laundry, reading a label on a bottle or making sure that they can tell the difference between a $5 or $10 bill.  

I think there are a lot of ways that Aira can assist in an academic sense as well. We do have students who are blind and utilizing different types of assistive technology, which is great, and we make sure that their books are provided to them in an electronic format that's accessible for them. But let's say the instructor at the last minute decides to hand out something in class that's not accessible to them. Aira is able to give that student instant access to that material versus waiting for someone to convert it into an accessible format.

What other services does the Office of Disability Services provide?  

The main mission is to provide equal access to everything at Rutgers for students with disabilities. Our primary function is providing academic accommodations for students. We do a lot of work with faculty and with staff supporting them in working with students with disabilities, making sure that they understand what it is that we all need to do in terms of our commitment to creating an accessible environment here at Rutgers.  

We work closely with many campus partners such as the Office of Career Exploration and Success in hosting events aimed at addressing some unique needs that students with disabilities may have or questions that they may have.