The headline on this story sounds like hyperbole or an advertising slogan. Trust me, it’s not. The simply brilliant Be My Eyes app genuinely lets you see on behalf of someone who is blind or visually impaired.
The app works by turning the visually impaired person’s smartphone into a live video camera. When they need help identifying something – whether it’s a caller at their door, a tin of food in their cupboard or a packet of painkillers – they put out a request for help. Within seconds, one of the app’s 1.5 million volunteers will answer the call and be their eyes, using live video to see what’s in front of the visually impaired person and tell them what it is.
It’s hard to think of a more ingenious use of a smartphone – which is one of the reasons why it picked up a BT Tech4Good Award at the ceremony at BT HQ in London yesterday.
What is Be My Eyes used for?
Visually impaired people call on Be My Eyes volunteers for all manner of reasons, as the company’s Community Director, Alexander Hauerslev Jensen, explained to me. They might call someone to read a street sign or door number for them. They might ask them to say when the next bus is arriving, by reading the electronic indicator at a bus stop.
One woman used the service to “see” her son’s first basketball game, by getting a Be My Eyes volunteer to commentate on the game for her.
Another woman asked a Be My Eyes volunteer to check her wedding dress for stains before she walked down the aisle.
Can you imagine the satisfaction of being the volunteer who was asked to perform one of those tasks? As Hauerslev Jensen told me: “Sometimes it’s a little difficult for us to see who we help the most. Is it the blind people or the sighted people?
“Everyone I’ve met who received a call remembered exactly what happened and how they felt,” he added. “It’s something so human to help someone out.”
How do I sign up to be a volunteer?
It’s as easy as downloading the app from the iPhone or Android app store, registering and waiting for your first call. During the registration process, you’re asked which country you’re in and which languages you speak, so that you’re not paired with someone you cannot communicate with.
The app assumes you’re on call from 8am to 8pm in your timezone, but there’s no obligation to answer. Multiple people are notified when someone needs help and the first to respond is connected. Nobody will go without help if you don’t answer the call, so don’t feel guilty about missing or ignoring a plea for help. On average, a call is answered within nine seconds in the UK.
It may be that you’re connected to someone who isn’t in your country. If someone in Australia needs help at 4am in the morning, the service won’t wake fellow Australians but instead divert the call to an English speaker in another country where it’s daytime.
It’s hard to think of a reason not to sign up. Not least because it’s absolutely free.