It’s nice to see a free app that connects helpful volunteers with folks seeking assistance.
“See” being a relative term here, because the free Be My Eyes app is designed to assist people who are visually impaired or blind. The anonymous and free app allows visually impaired users to connect, via video, to sighted volunteers who can then provide “visual assistance” to help with tasks such as identifying objects or describing environments.
Visually impaired users seeking assistance simply call in and the app finds the first available volunteer, usually within 45 to 60 seconds. The app automatically connects to a sighted volunteer who speaks the user’s language. There are currently volunteers representing 90 languages in 150 countries.
Be My Eyes also tracks the time zones in users’ locations so that visually impaired users can access the service 24 hours a day without worrying that they’ll disturb volunteers at night.
After dark, the app will even find a volunteer in the opposite hemisphere. Users are encouraged to ask for assistance whenever they want and as often as needed.
Sighted volunteers receive a notification when a visually impaired user seeks assistance. The volunteer can then decide whether or not to receive the call. If they aren’t available, the call is simply forwarded to the next appropriate volunteer.
Visually impaired users say they’ve used Be My Eyes to get help with finding lost items, reading instructions, navigating new places and public transportation, shopping, and more.
The app itself was invented by a visually impaired innovator, Hans Jørgen Wiberg, a member of the Danish Association of the Blind who began losing his sight at age 25.
Says Wiberg, “It is flexible, takes only a few minutes to help and the app is therefore a good opportunity for the busy, modern individual with the energy to help others.”
Wilberg presented his idea for Be My Eyes at a startup event in Denmark in 2012. He was able to recruit a team of developers, who rolled out the app in 2015.
Some critics have pointed out that the app tends to reinforce the stereotype that visually impaired people, and people with disabilities in general, are helpless and dependent on others to get by. Presumably, blind people have developed inventive strategies for solving everyday challenges long before Be My Eyes was ever invented.
According to the reviews from sighted volunteers, many wait weeks at a time to get an inquiry. The Be My Eyes network currently has about ten times more volunteers than users, which begs the question: Do blind people actually want to use this app?
If you’d like to try it out, as either a visually impaired user or a sighted volunteer, you can download the app for Android at the Google Play Store or for iOS at the App Store.