GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — There’s a mobile app that helps blind and visually impaired people shop. In honor of Blindness Awareness Month, one user explained how it has impacted him.
Casey Dutmer has been totally blind since birth. Navigating grocery stores used to be much easier growing up.
“When I was young, everything was a lot different. You had your big stores but you also had a lot of smaller stores and you could go in a store and ask the clerk for help and most of the time
you could get it because it was a locally-owned store,” he said. “It was more personal and service oriented.”
As the stores grew larger with more products, the experience became more difficult for shoppers like Dutmer.
Recently, he’s been depending on another source for direction.
“I’m ready when you are,” the representative on the phone said.
“I’m ready,” Dutmer responded.
The service is through Aira (Artificial Intelligent Remote Assistant). It’s a mobile app designed to help the blind and visually impaired access their daily needs.
Through the app, users are connected with a remote agent. Meijer partnered with the developer in the summer of 2020 to make the app accessible to blind and visually impaired shoppers for free. It can be used at all of its stores.
The representative on the app guides the users through their cell phone cameras to help them shop for items around the store.
“We are thrilled to connect and partner and expand our reach and make sure everyone else what they need within their reach,” Katherine Lee Baker, the manager for diversity and inclusion at Meijer, said.
As Dutmer began to shop, the representative gave him various commands to direct him where to go, like, “continue forward, your path is clear.”
“It’s a real game changer,” Brad Kaufman said.
Kaufman works with the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Grand Rapids. He’s enjoying witnessing his clients become more independent.
“We want people to understand that blindness is not a life-ending issue. Independence and gainful employment and other things that are taken for granted in the sighted world is very possible for those who are blind and low vision,” he said.
Though Dutmer is unable to see, he says the agents show him a different perspective and provides assurance for he and his family.
“I didn’t know there were so many different products. I knew there were a lot of products but there were a lot of things I had never heard of that the agent would read off to me,” he said. “It’s a comforting app for my wife, who is excited and who really believes if I go somewhere
and get tangled up she doesn’t have to worry.”
Beauty brand Cleanlogic is partnering with the Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired this month.
A portion of proceeds from the purchase of Cleanlogic products at Meijer stores will be given to ABVI to support a new employment initiative program, which will launch in 2023.
“ABVI’s employment initiative is designed to help reduce the drastically high unemployment rate among blind and low-vision individuals in Michigan and beyond,” Cassaundra Wolf, the ABVI board chair, said. “We are truly grateful to partners like Cleanlogic for their support in our efforts to help individuals living with low vision or blindness thrive in a sighted world.”
Cleanlogic Co-Founder Isaac Shapiro added, “We look forward to elevating our common purposes to help drive the unemployment rate amongst the blind and visually impaired communities.”
To download the Aira app, visit aira.io.