Aira’s new pricing plans, and the rent-to-own Horizon: My Thoughts

Introduction

Before I start, I would like to say that this is coming from the point of view of someone who is graciously getting a few months funded to my Aira. That being said, I am going to base my opinion on a financial standpoint as well as looking at the benefits for both the users and Aira.

A Disclaimer

I am going to start mentioning new plans. Before anyone panics, no this will absolutely not effect your current plan. Seriously, people have been panicking on Twitter concerning this. Maybe people didn’t get the memo, or skimmed past that, but i will again say that this does not effect current plans. If you want to keep your plan, have at it. The only exception to this is the premium stipulation; if you hold on to that plan, you will have a 700 minutes every month. Now with that out of the way, let’s begin. I may be putting more than my 2 cents on the table though, let’s be honest about that.

The New Plans

All I’m going to say is pick your poison.
Ok fine, I’ll outline the plans; you know I was only kidding, can’t you take a joke?
At any rate, that link above will actually list the plans in greater detail, and allow you to sign up to the plan of your choice. The most exciting thing for new subscribers, however, is the $29 a month 30minute plan.

Intro Plan

This gives you 30minutes of Aira use per month on your smartphone. So while you can’t expect to use it for navigational purposes, you can most certainly use it if you are in a pinch and need help with a quicker task. Not to mention the fact that it is an excellent introductory price for folks who are just looking to start off easy as far as trying the service is concerned. The only stipulation with this plan is that the glasses are not included, nor can you include them in your plan. Thus, this plan would no doubt require your phone to have a good camera (I personally use a pixel2, who’s camera you really can’t go wrong with at all.) You also will no doubt upgrade your plan when you begin to get comfortable with the service, thereby implementing the glasses into your plan.

Standard Plan

The standard plan covers 120 minutes for $99. A step up from the previous $89 plan, this adds 20 minutes to that at an extra $10. Not bad, as long as you don’t intend on using it for long-term navigational purposes, or have a very inaccessible program you have to use for long periods of time. It’s a nice way to meet in the middle if you moderately use it. Remember that these plans allow you to pay $50 for an additional 50 minutes.

Pro Plan

This plan covers 300 minutes for $199. While this is unfortunately a step down from the previous 400 minute plan for $199, 300 minutes is a good amount of minutes. You can do quite a lot in 300 minutes, after all.

The New Premium

For $329 a month, existing premium users are now given a 700minute plan. Most folks using the premium plan fell under that minute count anyway, so it makes sense for Aira and its users. The original premium plan was said to be unsustainable by the company, which does make sense as for only $329, that opens up the potential for people to technically be able to use thousands of minutes if they so desired. I doubt that users actually made that happen, but there were enough users that exceeded a reasonable minute threshold that makes sense for the $329. Facilitating that would not make financial sense, so it makes sense for Aira to meet in the middle as far as providing a premium plan is concerned; while not removing it entirely, they determined, based off more moderate premium usage statistics, a fair minute count to put the $329 plan at. Keep in mind that all these professional, trained agents, as well as the development and support teams, all need to be paid, obviously. If they allow something that doesn’t make financial sense to continue, they’ll be losing sustainable revenue in the long-run.

Horizon Glasses are now Rent-to-own

Note: I believe that Austria glass users can continue to keep the Austria glasses as long as they remain active with their plan, but please do not quote me on this.
Horizon is Aira’s stunning new pair of smart glasses. They are the first pair of smart glasses to offer top-notch hardware specifications to facilitate Aira’s needs. With a front-firing camera as opposed to a side-mounted on, and the ability to be powered by an eight hour battery, you just can’t go wrong with these. At this point I am not a Horizon user yet, but I am going off of what I’ve heard about it. The device that drives the show is a Samsung J7 smartphone with Aira Horizon software installed. The glasses connect to it via a cable that is designed to go down your back so that it isn’t intrusive. That is how the glasses can go off of an eight hour battery, and have your internet connection built in. The phone also features the chloe virtual assistant, and at this point she can read printed text that you present to her, as well as control various functions of the phone.
This device is rent-to-own, at $25 a month over a 24 month period. You can also purchase them outright if you so choose. A rather good smartphone and a pair of smart glasses for $600? That’s not half bad!

Conclusion

I am very glad that Aira has come up with an introductory plan to get new subscribers comfortable with the service. A lot of folks were intimidated by the higher introductory price, and rightfully so. But remember that it doesn’t have to be that way. If you click on a referral link, that is to say any link to Aira you see on this page for instance, you get your first month absolutely free. If it turns out you cannot financially sustain it, you can cancel. However, referring people does give you credit as well! Not only do you get a free month when you sign up through a referral, but once you start paying for a subscription, the referrer gets the value of your first month for free. Likewise, if you pass out your own referral link, you too can continue to use Aira in this way. Everyone wins!

Odds and Ends involving Aira

Introduction

If you read my posts oldest to newest, you will already have heard of my two biggest Aira use cases. There are, however, some honorable mentions that should go in here. They don’t have much of a backstory to them, thus not requiring a mammoth blog post. That’s what this post is for, however. We’ll talk about them, in no particular order as they are all valuable in their own right depending on the event. Let’s go!

Finding my Groceries

Ideally, I will end up going to a grocery store that has a personal shopper. A personal shopper will guide me through the store based on the items I need to buy. However, I was at a store that didn’t have one of those. Not all stores have the ability to request a personal shopper. Thus, Aira came to my aid. Several scans later, I had the entire wall of chips read to me and could pick the ones I wanted to buy! While groceries are certainly something I could shop for online, the fact that Aira can perform so well in a grocery store hints that it can do equally as well at a hardware store, for example.

NVidia GeForce now

There is a public yet invite beta of a streaming client produced by NVidia, makers of the well-known GeForce graphics cards used in some gaming computers. This client is called GeForce Now and is designed to be a cloud gaming rig that will allow you to stream games via graphics processing units in the cloud. This means that if you have a speedy computer but are still using on-board graphics that are subpar, you can play your games without suffering through the lag created by the intensive graphics rendering. The unfortunate reality is that this client is not accessible with screen readers. However, I was able to find that out with a lot more knowledge of what was actually going on through an Aira call! The agent was able to manipulate the program through TeamViewer and give a play-by-play of what was going on, one mouse-click after another. Note the word mouse-click as there wasn’t even a hope of using the keyboard in this program. My computer didn’t speak anything that the program was displaying. Getting a good look at the program while on the call brought us to the conclusion that the program was inaccessible, and a feedback submission was in order. I was able to provide more valuable feedback to the NVidia support team rather than the generic “It just isn’t accessible,” statement, as I knew a lot more about what exactly wasn’t accessible thanks to Aira’s help. It is my hope that NVidia will actually make this program accessible, and I would be proud to say that my interaction with an Aira agent had a stake in making it accessible.

No Movie Description, no Problem!

This section is my excuse to point out that I am a big fan of the movie UHF. If you haven’t watched it, I would highly recommend it, as it is hilarious. It features the character George Newman, played by “Weird Al” Yankovic, employed as the manager of the UHF tv station U62 that his Uncle Harvy won the deed to in a poker game. George unintentionally hits it big with his wacky programming ideas (Wheel of Fish and Stanly Spadowski’s clubhouse just to name a few.) Unfortunately, the competition in the area exists in the form of the mean-spirited R.J. Fletcher (Kevin McCarthy) who runs the channel8 network affiliate. Can U62 make it through the financial crisis and outrun Channel 8’s devious plan?
Since this movie is lesser known than some others, there is no audio description available. Audio description involves a narrator describing visual elements of the film that lack dialog. There was enough dialog in the movie that everything made sense, but there were still things missing without the description. For that reason, I resolved to get an impromptu description from an Aira agent, and Agent Connor did just that. The impressive description he was able to give would make you think there was a script, of which there was none! There were a few times where he had asked me to re-position the camera so he could view the movie, but that is simply due to the viewing radius of the glasses that are looking at the movie on a not-so-large computer screen. Guess I should’ve viewed the movie on Frank’s 2000inch TV instead! There was one moment where the timing could not have been better to require a camera re-position. During the area in Wheel of Fish where Phillis is opening the box to collect the goods, I was asked to re-position the camera because he couldn’t see what was in the box, then all of a sudden Kuni (Gedde Watanabe) says…Nothing! Absolutely nothing! That was when the agent realized that nothing was in the box.
And with that, keep an eye on the list of Aira Site-access locations! Maybe Spatula City will be the next establishment they plan to strike a deal with!

Math problems or Actual Problems? – This Time I’ll Take the Former!

Preface

I am currently a student at a community college transitioning from high school to a four year college. For the most part, things are going very well. However, there is one obstacle I must overcome, and that is the inaccessibility of my algebra class materials.

TLDr – Article Highlights

This will summarize the main points that I am going to stress in the article below.

  • Most of the classwork is driven by an inaccessible math software on the web
  • My parents work during the daytime hours, making late nights and weekends my only option for large amounts of work
  • Although the tech support is very nice and understanding of my problems, there is only so much they can do
  • Aira is making this process so much easier to deal with in the moment

Now with that out of the way, let’s dive in!

ConnectMath and the Struggles that Come with It

My math class uses a web application called ConnectMath. It is a math platform that facilitates most of the practice problems, and provides instant feedback on said problems. That being said, it may also generate variations of problems on the fly, so there isn’t a guarantee that two sessions will be the same, thus making it impractical to have them all translated into braille in one sitting. Besides, if I were to have them taken offline, I would not get the benefit of instant feedback or examples. The instant feedback also benefits the professor as they don’t have to grade the work, and when you’re talking over thirty problems per section, that’s a big deal.
If I wanted to ask anyone in my family for help, it would have to be during later evening hours, or during the weekend. Should the math work start getting bigger, that will become a bad time management option as that would practically force me to cram, and I should not do that. I will not be able to do that as the amount of graphing problems increases, because I absolutely cannot control the graph utility on my own without sighted help.
Calling the tech support did make them aware of the problem, and the support representative was incredibly understanding of the situation. Unfortunately, they don’t call the shots as they are not the development team, so they really can’t do much to help. Plus, whatever I do, part of me still thinks that I would be wasting another person’s time having them sit and read problems or control my computer; after all, there’s a million other things they could be doing and they don’t always have time in the day for it. So, what now?

When I Threw Aira into the Equation

Doing my work when connected to an Aira agent produced much more efficient results. The agent was able to remotely connect to my computer through TeamViewer and view my screen on their computer. They were able to instantly read me the problems, read the graphs involved in said problems, and even type my answers in or draw the graphs. Not only was it so much more efficient, but with Aira I truly feel like I am not wasting anyone’s time. This is what these agents do anyhow, so I’m not wasting anyone’s time by asking them to read and manipulate problems.

Conclusion

Fortunately ConnectMath’s support team is really nice to deal with, but the reality is they unfortunately can’t do much directly. Thus, I’m still on my own for coming up with a backup solution. Sure enough, Aira delivered as they always do!
Try Aira for yourselfand see if it can get you through that inaccessible program!

How Aira improved my Public Transportation Experience

Preface

Before I randomly start talking about transportation service, I would like to point out a few things.

  • I have an orientation and mobility instructor that takes me on various public transportation trips that involve buses or trains
  • Each trip is different, so I can’t take one set of instructions and apply it for everything, as that is not how it works in reality
  • Living in a suburb means that public transportation is not as widely used as it is in the city
  • While the transportation provider I am dealing with has an accessible online planner, I would ordinarily need to call their call center and the establishment in question to obtain information that can only be seen on a map, more on that later

TLDR – brief summary of the main points mentioned

This is a brief preview of what I’m about to discuss, to prepare you for the blog post below.

  • Calling the RTA Travel Information Center did not always yield good results
  • I have politely advocated for change, yet the situation seems to only be getting worse
  • Aira came in to save the day!

With that out of the way, let’s get started!

In this corner: RTA Travel Information Center and company

Let’s discuss the issues I have been having with the transportation company, RTA to be exact. This entire experience is one of the top reasons for wanting to try Aira.

Planning a Trip on the Website

Let’s start by addressing the service that a fair amount of RTA customers would be expected to use by today’s standards, the Trip Planner website. The controls are easy to use, which is a good thing The problem lies in the information the site provides. When planning a bus trip, the textual directions lack a considerable amount of information.
For one, the site does not let you know which direction the bus is bound, such as northbound. The link containing the bus number leads to none other than a map of the bus route.
The site also doesn’t give very clear turn-by-turn walking directions. When I step off the bus, I want to feel confident that I can trust the information I have been given in order to arrive at my destination safely. Unfortunately, the site does not give a full turn-by-turn route. Instead, it will give an estimated time of arrival, as well as the major streets I am to turn onto. Nowhere does it say which streets I am to cross while walking.

The Transportation Hotline

this opens up yet another can of worms. I call the Travel Information Center in hopes of gaining the missing information, and most of the time it leads me nowhere fast. Here’s a big example of what it hasn’t done. When I get off that bus, I am supposed to know the directional corner of the intersection the bus is to drop me off at. Most of the time it goes like this:
step 1: I plan the trip on the site.
Step 2: I am given the intersection at which the bus drops me off, let’s call it the intersection of Street 1 and Street 2.
Step 3: Since the site doesn’t give me the directional corner of said intersection, I call the transportation line.
Step 4: On a good day, I get a representative right away. More often than not I wait on hold for 27 minutes. Well not really, but you get the idea. I should also point out that there is no mechanism in place that tells you how many people are in front of you in line while on hold, so it is completely unpredictable.
Step 5, first possible outcome: After waiting, I end up getting the exact information I need after asking clearly for the directional corner of the intersection. “Oh, it’s the northeast corner of Street 1 and Street 2!” I point this out as a possibility because I want to give credit where credit is do; some representatives are incredibly helpful, and to them I offer a special mentioning on the blog. I know this is about Aira but I also don’t want to bash the RTA entirely as there are some good parts that should be praised. To any representatives I’ve spoken to that have been willing to bare with me as I ask these rare and complicated questions, I cannot thank you enough, and I hope you are getting the same level of appreciation from other customers as well as the RTA for that matter.
Unfortunately, other representatives aren’t as helpful, as I will explain down below.
Step 5, second possible outcome: After all that waiting, I ask clearly for the directional corner of the intersection. They react as if they’ve been asked a million dollar question on Who Wants to be a Millionaire and they’ve used all their lifelines. Never mind the fact that this information is clearly visible on the map they are viewing! My guess is that they don’t get enough people calling in to ask questions at this level of specificity. At any rate, this is a major problem when I need to gain access to this information quickly.

Have you done anything to try and change this, Jack?

As a matter of fact I have. I spoke at a meeting with the pace/RTA board of users last year, politely yet assertively advocating for change. I pointed out the issues that I described above, among other things. It was a call to action I felt was needed after nearly two years of frustration. The board of users was incredibly appreciative of me addressing my concerns as some of them shared similar struggles. Unfortunately, since their budget is pretty tight, they can only do so much, especially in a suburb where there’s an unofficial stigma around not having your own means of transportation. It’s safe to say at this point that RTA has made their priorities pretty clear; just a few weeks ago they permanently discontinued operations for the call center on Sundays. If that doesn’t sound the alarm I don’t know what does. If they keep going down this path, it could mean a decline in call center operation. You may think I’m crazy for thinking this, but this prediction isn’t too far off. Look at it this way. A decade ago you probably could get better service when making a call to the call center. At that same time, smartphones didn’t hold the strong position in the market that they do today. Thus, constantly updating GPS information wasn’t freely available. The online RTA trip planner was incredibly new at the time. There was a clear need for an information line you could call. Fast forward to 2018AD, we have dedicated apps, GPS information on demand, and so much more. Looking at this from a mainstream perspective, the need for a transportation line is about as insignificant as a 411 information line. This situation doesn’t affect the average user, which would explain why the decrease in call center service hours has not led to the public outcry I feel it should have generated. but for a person with disabilities, this situation is a disaster.
This story has to have a happy ending, right? Just you wait…

And in this corner: Aira!

Knowing I had to jump off this train before it ran off the rails, I decided to ditch the call center during my Aira usage period. I can now say I do not miss the call center one bit.
For one, there are several agents in the team, and you are pretty much guaranteed a short wait time. I can’t remember ever having to wait more than thirty seconds for an agent; the system will only wait a maximum of 90seconds before aborting the call.
Second, the agents understand exactly what I’m asking; I should point out that I am asking them the exact same questions I asked the folks at RTA and the destinations. Aira agents are patient throughout this whole process, and are able to tell me everything I need to know and then some. They are able to tell me the exact directional corners of the bus stop and drop-off location. They are able to tell me physical road characteristics such as the pedestrian crossing situation for each cross-street, or if a street is unsafe to cross due to lack of cross-walks. The best part is that I can ask for this same information in real-time while I am walking, and they will get an overhead view of my location in space in addition to the satellite view on the map. This makes me feel infinitely more comfortable walking unfamiliar routes independently.

Conclusion

There’s no question who the winner is in this situation. I have never felt more confident while walking an unfamiliar route for the first time. There are several moments which made me realize how much a game-changer Aira really has been in my own life, but I feel this is one of the biggest realizations I’ve had concerning it. If you are a reader who experiences a similar situation, and advocating doesn’t lead to anything good, ditch the standard information line if you can. I know that as of now I am just using a free month, but it feels great to know how beneficial it can be.
You don’t have to just take my word for it though.
Give it a spin!

Aira: How can it help me?

Introduction

For those who don’t know, Aira is a visual interpretation service for the blind. It enables you to use a pair of their smart-glasses to video call an agent that will be your visual interpreter. That agent can:

  • Give you detailed navigation information while walking outdoors
  • Find items that are hard to locate with your cane out in the open, such as bus poles!
  • Read building signs, restaurant menus, recipes, etc
  • Describe movies or live-action performances for you on the fly
  • Remotely control your computer to guide you through that program that may be inaccessible to screen readers
  • and so much more!

What do I use in Conjunction with Aira?

I can think of two specific accessories that I recommend. They aren’t absolute necessities, but will enhance your experience tremendously!
Aftershokz Bone Conduction Headphones are the best open-ear headphones around. They do not cover your ears at all, instead resting in front of your ears to play sound through bone conduction. This is essential for using Aira outdoors where hearing your surroundings is crucial. If you want my personal recommendation as to what the best fit is, I personally recommend their newest offering, the Trekz Air. It is 20% lighter than the predecessor, has an all-titanium frame and is not weighed down by the electronics/battery at all. These fit incredibly nicely with my Austria glasses, and I would venture to guess they also fit well when worn with the newer Horizon glasses.
The Energrid Accessible Portable Battery is an excellent way to keep your stuff charged while on the go. Upkeep is a pretty important part of using Aira. Whether you are using the Austria glasses with a two hour battery before, or the Horizon/J7’s 8hour battery, the portable power bank is definitely something you will want to keep around. This bank holds enough charge to go through several full charges, and it beeps and vibrates to tell you how much charge is left! Most importantly, the modified USB ports are reversible. Imagine a standard USB-version of a lightning cable. That’s right, you can insert the cable into the battery any way you want, and it will fit into the connector perfectly! Please note that for those familiar with USB Type-C, the battery does not use those ports; from the look of it, they are modified USB3.1 type-A ports. So, not only are you able to use your standard cable that your Aira glasses come with, or indeed any other cable for that matter, but it also still is a pretty fast charger for devices that are capable of charging quickly.

That’s it for now

We’ll be back later for more on how I personally have used Aira! Meanwhile, if you want to join, click this link and get your first month free!