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Smartphone app to support blind and partially sighted patients attending hospital appointments

A trial of the Aira app has been introduced to provide visual assistance for patients attending Moorfields Eye Hospital

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A smartphone app trial is set to provide visual assistance for blind and partially sighted patients attending hospital appointments at Moorfields Eye Hospital.

The trial of the Aira (Artificial intelligence and remote assistance) technology will run for six months and has been funded by the Thomas Pocklington Trust.

The smartphone app, which is free of charge for blind and partially sighted people to use, will link patients with trained Aira agents who will be able to help with navigation and social distancing. Agents will be able provide assistance by letting users know when someone is approaching, if the person is wearing a mask, and if there is directional signage, such as distancing guides.

Visual interpreting can cover a variety of situations, such as navigation, or reading forms. Aira suggests it can provide this information “in an objective manner” and at the request of the user.

Darren Paskell, technology manager at the Thomas Pocklington Trust, shared that the charity has heard from many blind and partially sighted people, who have felt COVID-19 has impacted their independence.

He explained: “Some people have cancelled eye appointments due to concerns around the virus and lack of certainty around assistance available.”

This service would enable blind and partially sighted patients to attend appointments independently.

The Aira support covers the geographic area in and around the Moorfields Eye Hospital, from Old Street and Old Street station to the south of the hospital, along City Road to the west of the hospital, and to Bath Street on its west side.

Paskell added: “Aira’s agents are professionally trained employees, and go through a rigorous reference process. This provides reassurance on confidentiality.”