Paralympian Tests Life-Changing Tech Giving New Freedom to Visually Impaired - NBC Bay Area

Paralympian Tests Life-Changing Tech Giving New Freedom to Visually Impaired

Thanks to new technology, a local Paralympian says it feels like he can see again.

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    Lex Gillette, a 4-time Paralympian, travels the world as a professional athlete and often amazes spectators with how far he can jump despite being blind.

    Now the man who broke barriers on the track is becoming one of the first users of new technology giving sight to the blind.

    A company called Aira has developed a subscription service allowing visually impaired users to connect with guides who relay real-time information back to the user about what they'd be seeing.

    Lex puts on a pair of glasses that act as a camera and through the Aira cellphone application connects to one of roughly 70 agents around the nation who sees what he should be seeing on their computer screen.

    The agents are specially trained as quick efficient communicators. They can help users find the nearest coffee shop, alert them to approaching obstacles on sidewalks, or describe a painting at a museum.

    The service is helping to give people with visual impairments, who used to rely on friends or strangers, a way to become more independent.

    Aira offers monthly subscription plans ranging from 100 minutes for $89 to unlimited minutes for $329.

    Lindbergh Field is one of the places partnering with the service as a way of enriching the experience for visually impaired travelers. The airport will pay the minutes for anyone who uses Aira while at terminals 1 or 2.

    Aira says their "explorers" have used the service for everything from do-it-yourself projects like pouring a concrete sidewalk to having the agent describe the bride and groom at a wedding.

    Lex recently used Aira to navigate his way around Seaport Village as his agent led him to the nearest seafood restaurant and then described the restaurant's exterior, surrounding businesses, and weather.

    "And to have that assistant who is giving that visual feedback and letting me know what is going on, it literally makes me feel like I can see again," said Lex.

    He hopes to soon use the service for workouts as he trains for the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo, Japan.