Have you or a loved one ever struggled with reading the small print on a medication label or even distinguishing between a navy sweater and a black one? A new app called Be My Eyes is aiming to help the blind and visually impaired ‘see’ by connecting them with sighted strangers (helpers) who have also downloaded the app. The way it works is whenever a blind user needs help identifying an object, the app launches the user’s iPhone’s rear-facing camera and connects them with a designated ‘helper’ via video chat. The helper can then describe and/or read what they see to the blind user and answer their questions.
The app’s ‘helpers’ are individuals who have agreed to be ‘on call’, so to speak. The helpers can be notified at any point during the day that a user needs assistance; often with distinguishing paper money, the location or colour of an object, for instance. However, the helpers are in no way obligated to answer the call and so the app will automatically notify alternate helpers until someone picks up the call.
The creators behind Be My Eyes have been testing the app in Denmark for quite some time. The app’s founder, Hans Wiberg explained that most tasks and questions asked by the visually impaired have to do with identifying a piece of mail, finding the right item on a shelf or in the fridge. Wiberg believes that the visually impaired who do not have a live-in caregiver or assistant will be able to make great use of the new app. He describes Be My Eyes as a new way of providing independence to people with vision loss. After all, many low vision patients are reluctant to continuously ask a neighbour or family member for help with minor chores like distinguishing apple juice from milk or reading the subject on a piece of mail. Be My Eyes allows users to ask multiple questions per day with a degree of comfort, since users can be sure the ‘helper’ on the other end is more than willing to help.
Described as a kind of ‘micro-volunteering’, Be My Eyes does not offer incentives for the helpers’ participation. However, the app does track the number of times a helper has answered question through a points system that rates their level of trustworthiness. As of February 2015, the app already has 14,000 sighted ‘helpers’ and 1,200 visually impaired users.
The free app is planning to expand to Android in the future, but is currently focused on perfecting Be My Eyes for iPhone.
What do you think? Would you use the Be My Eyes app or suggest it to a visually impaired loved one? Or do you find the idea of strangers being your eyes odd?