MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) has announced a new pilot program that visually-impaired riders say has potential to change lives.
On Wednesday, MCTS announced that Milwaukee will become the third city in the nation, behind New York and Boston, to have a transit system that has partnered with the app 'Aira.'
The app connects users with professionals using their smartphone cameras, allowing those professionals to provide real-time assistance to blind and visually-impaired riders.
The highly trained professionals are able to help riders read signage, find their way to and from bus stops, identify obstacles and offer real-time directions.
"My blindness, just like any other disability, presents me with challenges and hurdles that I face every day from reading my mail, to identifying items in the kitchen, to navigating around my community, no matter if it's getting to work, or doctors appointments or getting my kids to and from school," said Cory Ballard, who was candid about those challenges during a press conference on Wednesday. "Technology has allowed me to overcome those challenges and has allowed me to jump those hurdles."
Ballard said Aira is one of those tools of technology that can help him overcome challenges.
"With this partnership, it can really empower individuals and give them the confidence that they need to become confident travelers in their community," said Ballard.
The Aira app is not new to Milwaukee. There are more than 45 different places around the city of Milwaukee that offer Aira assistance.
The pilot program will allow travelers who use MCTS to get around even easier, for free.
"Now, in Milwaukee County, you could land at the airport, head straight to the zoo, hit up a few of our parks and then come visit me at the courthouse all using the Aira app to get around. That is something that wouldn’t have been thinkable years ago and now it's not just thinkable -its the new norm," said Milwaukee County Exec. Chris Abele.
Israel Cazares, who is visually impaired and works hard to help make the city of Milwaukee more accessible, said the new tool will help with day-to-day life.
"It’s tremendously exciting that Aira is now available to, not only take us to work, but take us from work and of course, in case you didn’t know, Aira is also available at a lot of the beer gardens in the area and, who doesn’t like a beer in Milwaukee?" said Cazares.
MCTS and its partners are hosting three upcoming training sessions for any user who would like to receive in-person assistance setting up the app and learning how to use it. Those will be held:
Friday: 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the MCTS Administration Building, 1942 N. 17th Street, Milwaukee
Wednesday, Feb. 12: 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Vision Forward 912 N. Hawley Road, Milwaukee
Wednesday, Feb. 12: 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Vision Forward 912 N. Hawley Road, Milwaukee
Those who cannot attend the training sessions can call the MCTS Mobility Management team at 414-937-3256 for more information, or visit their website for instructions, testimonials and frequently asked questions. Vision Forward (414-615-0124) and Beyond Vision (414-758-2736) also have staff members available to help users learn how to use the app.