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Post Date:06/25/2019 10:40 AM

Blind and low-vision visitors have a new way to enjoy the restaurants, breweries, shops and other destinations in Chula Vista’s Third Avenue Village.

The City of Chula Vista has partnered with the Third Avenue Village Association to provide free access to Aira, an augmented reality service that connects blind and low-vision people to highly trained, remotely located agents.

“Whether you have 20-20 vision or you’re blind or somewhere in between, you’re welcome here,” said Randy Bellamy, president of the Third Avenue Village Association.

Using a smartphone app and camera, users connect with live, sighted agents who provide on-demand visual descriptions and guidance. Agents use real-time video and audio as well as maps and other online information to help users interact with their surroundings.

As part of a one-year pilot, the Aira service is available for free at all businesses, streets, sidewalks and bus stops in the Third Avenue Village as well as at the Chula Vista Civic Center Branch Library, Chula Vista Police Department Headquarters and Norman Park Senior Center.

Outside of the free access zone, users pay a per-minute fee to use the Aira service. Within the free access zone, the cost of service is subsidized by the City and the Third Avenue Village Association, which is the first business district in California to offer free Aira access.

“Whether you’re stopping for coffee, getting a haircut, or shopping for a gift for a friend, this service will help you get around safely,” Bellamy said.

Aira is a San Diego-based startup founded by Suman Kanagunti, a UC San Diego graduate.

“It’s very special to see this service provided for free here in Chula Vista, because this is where we did beta testing,” Kanagunti said.

Anthony Arriaga, who is visually impaired, was one of the first to take advantage of free access in Chula Vista’s historic and revitalized downtown village. He used Aira to walk down Third Avenue to a barbershop on a recent morning.

“It’s changed my life; it has, definitely,” Arriaga said as he sat in the barber’s chair. 

The service is one of the latest initiatives in Chula Vista’s smart city strategy, which also includes projects such as drones as first responders, advanced traffic signals and smart irrigation at city facilities.

“Our community is stronger when everyone has access to our local businesses and public spaces regardless of their physical abilities,” said Chula Vista Mayor Mary Casillas Salas. “Our partnership with Aira and our Third Avenue Village businesses is the latest example of how we are using smart city technology to make Chula Vista safer and accessible to all.”

Free access to Aira also complements Chula Vista’s efforts to become a more age-friendly community, Salas said.

“Being age-friendly is important for Chula Vista because older adults are quickly becoming a much larger share of our population,” Salas said. “Having impaired vision is sometimes part of the aging process, and we want to make sure everyone can live their life to the fullest.”

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