Chris Miller will be the first to say he’s not an accessibility expert. As strategic operations manager for Clemson University Facilities, Miller’s expertise lies in finding creative, collaborative ways to help people across campus. When his work overlaps with his passion for accessibility, it’s life-changing — like with the recent implementation of Aira (pronounced “eye-ra”), a 24/7 visual interpretation service now available at Clemson.

By opening the Aira Explorer app and pointing a phone’s camera, Aira’s trained live agents will remotely interpret what is in the camera’s view or on screen. Aira will help anyone who is blind or visually impaired, including campus visitors, navigate their surroundings at Clemson sites.

“Think of it as FaceTime with a random person,” said Hunter Duncan, former assistant director (academic) for Student Accessibility Services, who participated in the Aira pilot. “It’s very user-friendly, and the app does well with different font sizes and brightness settings.”

Aira’s strength lies in its wide range of opportunities for use. From reading a handwritten “class moved today” sign on a building door to the ISBN code on a library book or the route shown on a bus’s digital display, Aira interpreters can help. The app also features dictation and screen-reader technology.

Miller takes accessibility seriously, stemming from two key life events. A high school football injury revealed a degenerative back condition that eventually left him virtually bedridden for several months in 2021. In constant pain and unable to sleep for days at a time, a chance encounter with the right surgeon led to the procedure that finally restored his ability to walk. That ability is not one he takes for granted.

“Helping others with accommodations at Clemson who were already having to work through their individual challenges motivated me to keep pushing.”

“I gained a different perspective on people and their situations because of what I was going through, losing the ability to walk,” he said. “Helping others with accommodations at Clemson who were already having to work through their individual challenges motivated me to keep pushing. I felt like while I was able-bodied enough, I was going to continue helping others with their challenges as long as I could.”

An encounter at work gave him another perspective on accessibility needs. While helping a student who was Deaf and blind plan her route to class, he noticed she could not tell where a curb ended and the roadway began. Miller shared this experience with University Facilities colleagues, who soon expanded locations for truncated dome mats across campus. The bright, bumpy pads alert people with visual impairments to check for potential hazards, including curbs and oncoming traffic.

Miller later learned about Aira while working with Student Accessibility Services and Clemson’s Office of Access and Equity. His participation in the 2023 CU Grow staff development program provided further connections and project-management skills. With a broad network of support and funding from Facilities, pilot testing began before the Universitywide launch in March 2024.

Aira has begun to expand across the state since its initial implementation. Current coverage includes the main campus, and coverage is rolling out to every Clemson property statewide (including camps) and the city of Clemson.

“Helping people is the best part of my job,” said Miller. “With Aira, we were trying to find a resource that can be used broadly instead of a more focused solution. It might not help a million people, but it will make a huge difference for the folks it does help.”

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