Today, 200 million people in 188 countries are visually impaired. This number is expected to double by 2050. People with limited vision or who are blind need special tools to get information and function independently in the world. Assistive Technology (AT) or access tools, as they are called, can be very low tech, like bold writing markers, or quite high tech, like devices that can scan printed text and use synthesized speech to read it back aloud.
The sometimes-elusive goal for those with impaired vision is independent living. Activities targeted include not only reading and writing, but other forms of communication (cell phones and the internet).
Here to take helping the visually impaired to the next level is the Be My Eyes app “that connects blind and low vision people with sighted volunteers and company representatives for visual assistance through a live video call.”
How does it work? Be My Eyes pushes a notification to a volunteer that someone needs help. If the volunteer chooses to accept the request for assistance, the app sets up a live video connection between the blind user and the sighted user.
The app lets the volunteer do all kinds of useful tasks, like setting the oven temperature, reading mail, adjusting the air conditioner or furnace. A sighted person can guide their sight-challenged partner through a grocery store, and even check the expiration dates on food items.
Think of all the ways a sighted volunteer could help out, from finding a lost earring to inspecting a wedding dress for stains.
The app is available in 182 languages with an average pick-up time for a helper of 30 seconds. This is possible because different countries in other time zones can render assistance while it is the middle of the night where the blind requester lives. For example, if an American English-speaker needed help after midnight, the app looks for English-speaking helpers in England or Australia.
This simple app not only provides much-needed aid to those who are sight-impaired, it also relieves friends and family of being on-call 24/7. The blind user knows the person responding to the app really wants to help out, too.
The man who envisioned this creative solution to solve every-day challenges is Hans Jørgen Wiberg from Denmark. He himself is visually impaired, with worsening tunnel vision. He presented his idea at a Danish startup event in April 2012 and teamed up with app developers ready to make his dream become reality.
Within 24 hours of its debut for iOS on January 15, 2015, the app had more than 10,000 users. The Android version, released on October 5, 2017, is also in high demand.
The global community is acknowledging the value that Be My Eyes brings. According to their corporate website, the app is receiving accolades:
“In December 2017 Be My Eyes was chosen as Google Play Best Apps of 2017 in the categories; ‘Most Innovative,’ ‘Best Daily Helper’ and ‘Best Hidden Gem,’ and in May 2018 Be My Eyes won the Google Play Award 2018 for ‘Best Accessibility Award.'”
The corporate philosophy at Be My Eyes is that physical accessibility should also be financially accessible. Currently, almost 80,000 blind and vision-impaired people use the free app – along with (are you ready for this?) 1.3 MILLION VOLUNTEERS.
Why so many volunteers compared to users? The company’s leaders believe it is because those who help are excited about the quick and easy opportunity to help others. One user said, “It’s a good deed waiting happen in your pocket.”
Do good. Feel good. The rich benefits of global community-based AT tools are easy to see.