“See the world together” is the tagline for the unique, philanthropic mobile application “Be My Eyes.” As defined on their website, this is a free app that connects blind and low-vision people with sighted volunteers and company representatives for visual assistance via live video.
There are two main features of this app. The first is to connect a visually impaired person to an available randomly selected sighted volunteer and virtually “borrow” their eyesight in order to receive help in accomplishing a particular task. These tasks include describing objects, reading product descriptions, assistance with selecting clothes, navigating surroundings, personal banking assistance and many other daily to do’s that require sight. The second feature is called “Specialized Help.” This feature gives blind and low vision users the opportunity to directly connect to the customer service desks of different participating companies such as Microsoft and Google. A customer care representative is available to assist the visually impaired person with any technical issues or concerns related to their products.
How Does This App Work?
- The user opens the app and is presented with two options: “Call First Available Volunteer” and “Specialized Help.”
- For assistance with daily tasks, the user selects the first option which triggers the search and call function of the app, alerting the first available volunteer.
- If the user has technical difficulties or issues with the product, the second option should be selected.
- A sighted volunteer becomes available on the line.
- The sighted volunteer will help the blind or low-vision person to perform the requested task.
I see this app as the human version of popular assistive apps such as Microsoft’s Seeing AI. The main difference is that this app interacts with real human beings while other apps utilize AI’s.
Putting Be My Eyes to the Test
I used this app in two different scenarios. The first was when my laptop froze and I couldn’t figure out how to fix it since my screen reader had also been disabled. The person who helped me was able to explain what was happening on my screen.
The second task I asked for help with was in sorting out my money. This is especially important for me and for the blind community here in the Philippines where it is impossible to distinguish our bills because the sizes are the same. Even the textures are similar. As a work-around for this problem, I perform unique folds for each bill so that I can tell them apart. Nonetheless, I need assistance in identifying which bill is which before I can make the folds. Sometimes, I put the money in different compartments in my wallet so I know where to get the amount I need. This is a little inconvenient for me sometimes, because it’s hard to look for small wallets with many compartments. Usually, I end up having a big wallet all the time. Now, because of new apps like Be My Eyes, I can manage my money without risk of being cheated or defrauded.
This app is not only useful for indoor tasks, it is equally helpful for tackling the outdoors. A friend of mine once told me that she used Be My Eyes when she got lost in her apartment building. The elevator was out of order and she needed help finding the door to the stairwell. The assistance she received from the sighted volunteer not only helped her successfully find the door, it made her feel more secure because of the human contact and assurance of safety.
Key Take Aways
The absence of a language barrier while using Be My Eyes was a breath of fresh air. The few times that I’ve used the app, the volunteer has always been a fellow Filipino. Because of this, we were able to talk in our native tongue so it was easier for me to fully and clearly explain the kind of help that I needed. In turn, the instructions from the volunteers were equally easy to follow because we were both comfortable with the language. Also, given that we live in the same country, the local products were familiar for both of us making it easier to distinguish those items. As such, the accuracy of results was higher. The volunteer clearly saw the item, so the chances of providing inaccurate information was minimized.
What I appreciate most about this app is the human connection that I get.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate the help I get from the AI apps, but the personal connection I get from Be My Eyes gives me a better experience. Given that participation in this app is voluntary, I am inspired to know that there are millions of sighted people out there who are generous enough to help the blind.
All in all, I’m incredibly happy and satisfied with the service I received from this app. Because of its interactive design, I see it as a way of educating sighted people about the blind. The sighted volunteers learn about us through our daily tasks and the possible barriers to performing them successfully. They learn our strengths and our limitations. It is also eye-opening for them because they get to see that blind people can use and enjoy new technologies – that we can use smart phones and computers and that we are able to do tasks that sighted people can do, just in a slightly different way. Be My Eyes empowers the blind and affords us greater independence.