Sydney Airport is the first in Australia to join a growing number of airports in the United States and elsewhere helping blind and low-vision travellers navigate busy airports via a smartphone app.
The free service for departing or arriving passengers connects the traveller to an agent who provides on-demand, personalised access to visual information in the airport via the app on any iOS or Android device, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Sydney Airport said on Friday it had partnered with San Diego-based Aira for the venture as part of its commitment to improve accessibility throughout its terminals.
Aira launched the app for the visually impaired in 2015 and provides the training for the agents, who are able to see a person’s surroundings through the use of their phone camera or through the use of smart glasses with a camera built in.
Sydney Airport chief executive Geoff Culbert said 44.4 million passengers travelled through the airport each year and it was continually looking for innovative ways to make the journey better.
Culbert said in a statement a trial of the Aira app at the T2 domestic terminal recently was a “game changer for the participant”.
Vision Australia chief executive Ron Hooton said the technology made the world instantly more accessible for more than 380,000 people in Australia who were blind or had low vision.
“Becoming an Aira Access location means the community can visit Sydney Airport without worrying if there will be somebody there to help them make their way to check in, find their gate or access any other of the airport’s facilities,” Hootom said.
Jack Tyrrell, a regular Sydney-based traveller, used Aira for the first time recently while departing Sydney Airport.
“When I need to go to the airport, I normally just go straight from the train station to my boarding gate, as I’m not able to distinguish what’s around,” Tyrrell said in the Sydney Airport statement.
“Using Aira for the first time, I was able to learn where things were and realised the full offering of the airport.”
Participants normally sign up to a paying plan for the service. However, Sydney Airport, similar to numerous United States airports using Aira, would provide it for free.
Aira founder and chief executive Suman Kanuganti said providing free access to Aira at Australia’s busiest airport by passenger numbers enhanced the independent travelling experience for those who were blind or had low vision.
Sydney Airport recently opened a wheelchair-accessible bathroom at its T1 international arrivals hall that included full-sized changing tables and hoists to assist people with profound disabilities and an assistance animal toilet and water bowl, artificial turf area, and disposable bin for companion pets.
The bathroom also incorporated a parent room where mothers could breastfeed their children.
VIDEO: A traveller uses Aira to make his way through Denver Airport from the company’s YouTube channel.