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Wellington Airport becomes the first in New Zealand to offer virtual help for the blind

Wellington Airport has become the first in New Zealand to offer free virtual help for blind people to navigate an airport.

The airport has just started offering a free app, which can be accessed using a smartphone, for visually impaired passengers at the airport.

The American owned AIRA app connects visually impaired people to assistants working around the clock in the United States.

AIRA Vice President Australasia, Jonathan Mosen, told 1 NEWS Wellington Airport was keen to adopt the technology.

"They instantly said, 'yeah I get this. I can see the quality of life changing this is going to make, and improving the experience.' And they've embraced the technology. And I hope not only many other airports in New Zealand but business will too," he said. 

For visually impaired traveller George Taggart, even with guide dog Gus by his side, just getting to his destination can be tough.

The independence the app offers was soon clear for Mr Taggart as a first-time user of it at Wellington Airport. 

He spoke on his phone to an assistant in the US, explaining he was in part of Wellington Airport he'd never been in before.

Mr Taggart told 1 NEWS, "The lady's voice was really calm and reassuring, so I knew I would just follow instructions."

He said normally he would have needed someone to help him find a toilet and get to the departure gate.

Other airports offer assistance through staff members, but Mr Taggart was happy to not be relying on others, thanks to the app.

"I just feel like doing a wee dance. The nearest comparison I think is that once again I was behind the wheel of car. That's how free it was. I was a wee bit tentative, so I'm still a learner driver," he said.  

Ayolt Wiertsema of Wellington Airport expects the app will be popular among visually impaired passengers there.

"If we have a good uptake, which I think we will, then I think we could keep it rolling for a long time," he said. 

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Navigating airports can be difficult at the best of times. Source: 1 NEWS