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When visitors come to a Broward County park in South Florida, what do they hope to see, do and enjoy? Maybe they’re there to enjoy one of the many amenities, including horse stables, campgrounds, playgrounds, pavilions, natural areas and much more. Broward County’s park system, established in 1956, has grown to encompass almost 6,500 acres, with nearly 50 regional parks and nature centers, neighborhood parks and natural areas at various stages of development. Broward County Parks and Recreation Division is dedicated to making its facilities, programs and resources relevant, diverse, attractive and accessible.
Close your eyes and imagine needing to find your way to one of the amenities — to a restroom, campsite or social gathering place — or to physically distance while maneuvering through a crowded space on your way to a shelter, field or park office with limited or no vision. Broward County Parks is the first county park and recreation system in the state of Florida to provide its patrons with Aira, a way-finding app that gives individuals who are blind or have low vision with real-time access to trained agents who can help them navigate through our parks.
The service was introduced in July 2021 through the parks division’s Special Populations Section, which regularly partners with local organizations that provide services to individuals who are blind or have low vision. Aira is another way to demonstrate the agency’s commitment to serving park visitors with disabilities of all kinds.
Here’s how Aira works: The free app can be downloaded at aira.io/app. (Assistance is available by phone at 1.800.835.1934 or via email at email@example.com.) Upon entering one of our parks, a patron engages the app, which connects them to an Aira agent, each of whom have extensive training in working with people who are blind or have low vision. The agent interacts with the patron in real time, providing up to 30 minutes of assistance per day to help locate specific facilities, read signage and provide general navigation. So far, the feedback from program participants has been positive and enthusiastic.
With the addition of Aira, Broward County Parks can enhance the quality of life for park visitors who are blind or have low vision. Not only will they have greater independence, but also they’ll be safer and more aware of their surroundings, which will increase their enjoyment of the many experiences that our parks have to offer.
Mary Palacios, CTRS, CPRP, is Special Populations Manager at Broward County Parks and Recreation. Michael Mills is “The Parks Wordsmith” and has 20 years of experience in parks and recreation.