Augmented Ability: Assistive Technology Gets Smart |
Assistive Tech
When I walked into an Arlington, VA coffee shop to meet Candice Jordan, I felt the usual anxious vigilance I get when I'm looking for a person I've never met. People are usually great at producing obvious body-language signals that indicate they're also waiting for a stranger, but Candice wouldn't be looking for me: She'd be listening. She did display a few great cues, thankfully. A patient, doe-eyed Labrador retriever named Austria rested by her side, and a clutch of electronic gadgets were spread before her on the table. Candice also had a Google Glass headset perched on the bridge her nose. It was this that I'd really come to talk to her about. After we exchanged pleasantries, she gave me a quick rundown on her recent life—one in which smart assistive technology is playing an increasingly important role. AI-enabled eyesight services, smart hearing aids, and other intuitive, connected technology is changing the game for people with disabilities.

Vision Quest

Candice lost her sight entirely in college in 1998, at the age of 21, waking up blind one morning after months of declining vision because of worsening, inoperable cataracts. She worked with her university to complete her degree in psychology and then obtained a master's degree in rehabilitation counseling; she's been working for the District of Columbia government's Rehabilitation Services Administration since 2007. So why Google Glass? Candice uses them with Aira, a new service she subscribes to: It connects her with a human agent who uses video feed from the headset or a phone's camera to describe her environment for her and help navigate her through it. The agent also has access to a dashboard of data about her preferences, multiple maps, and information about her physical location. Aira can tell her as much or as little as she wants to know about her surroundings. Suman Kanuganti, CEO and founder of Aira, said his concept arose from a time he was on a phone-camera video call with a visually impaired friend. He asked his friend to hold his phone camera up, facing outward from his head, and then proceeded to describe what he saw in the friend's kitchen to him. On subsequent calls, they performed the exercise outdoors using a Google Glass headset Kanuganti had acquired. "I was walking with him as I sat in San Diego, and I realized, I can pull up maps and other information for him while he's moving," Kanuganti said. "He said, Suman, what we're doing is for fun, but there are millions of blind people for whom a service like this would be life-changing."
Source: Augmented Ability: Assistive Technology Gets Smart |


The North Carolina Assistive Technology Program (NCATP) leads North Carolina's efforts to carry out the federal Assistive Technology Act of 2004. We promote independence for people with disabilities through access to technology. Visit our website at
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