Be My Eyes Realises the Potential of Assistive Technology for Visually Impaired People

A person uses the Be My Eyes person on a public street. The person on the other end is displayed in the video call, who can see the street ahead and describe it for the caller.

Categories: Technology

28 June 2018

Author: Julia Rignot


Following on from our recent article on SpecialEffect, we now turn to Be My Eyes, a company working on Assistive Technology developed to help visually impaired people. We hear about what they do, what a day in the life looks like for the team, and why they chose to interweave technology with the human connection.

Be My Eyes

Be My Eyes is a free mobile app on both iOS and Android. Be My Eyes is not new to the technology industry, but its approach to assistive technology is somewhat of a novelty. The app comprises a global community of blind and low vision people and sighted volunteers – harnessing the power of technology and human connection to bring sight to blind and low vision people.

Engineering Assistive Technology

With assistive technology, seamlessness is crucial to its functionality. If you can’t integrate the technology into your daily routine, or if there’s an entry barrier to its usability, then the technology isn’t accessible. With Be My Eyes, the app has been designed so that blind and low vision users need merely to tap a button. Almost instantly, they’re paired with a sighted volunteer, speaking their own language, through a live video call.

For some blind, low vision or non-sighted folks, assistive devices mean less social and technological barriers. Be My Eyes rules out the need to ask or wait for someone’s help; it helps users to tackle day-to-day tasks with both ease and greater independence. Through the user’s smartphone camera, volunteers lend their eyes to help with a wide range of tasks: checking food expiry dates, reading a letter aloud, finding a lost item, cooking dinner, choosing earrings to match an outfit, navigating a new campus, using public transportation – the list goes on.

Production Cycle

Be My Eyes takes an agile approach to software development. Typically, software engineers apply both their scientific and technological knowledge to the design and use of software. For Be My Eyes, accessibility and efficiency are the core of each phase of software creation and implementation. Prior to its official launch in October 2017, beta-testers were invited to try out the Android version.

Now, as the audience expands, users and volunteers have the freedom to voice their technological experience of the app directly to the developers. While the app remains flexible to a range of users, designing for user experience prioritizes visual accessibility for users. What’s more, the app needs perpetual updates to maintain efficient functionality across all devices, in all countries, in various languages, and countless scenarios. Additionally, given the rapid pace of technological change, even experienced users may have occasional problems with certain new devices.

As such, we created an in-app function, Specialised Help, to make the use of these new products more accessible. When blind and low vision users have an issue or question with a particular product or service, the new function allows them to connect directly with representatives from that company or organization. Microsoft was the first company to join the platform, and future collaborations are in the works.

The Human Connection

While a substantial amount of modern technology is veering towards pattern recognition of deep neural networks in order to provide solutions, Be My Eyes has focused on interweaving the human connection with developments in technology. Founder Hans Jorgen Wiberg saw potential in designing a system around micro-volunteering – envisioning a network of human beings available to help at the touch of a button.

The 1.3 million volunteers, who choose to spend their free time connecting with any of the 80,000+ users in need of an extra pair of eyes, or seeking a different perspective, offer both the empathy that AI’s cannot impersonate and a grasp of the immediate context that AI’s are unable to read.

Reciprocally, sighted volunteers have an unparalleled chance to learn from blind and low vision people first-hand. These experiences with the app, in turn, translate to their careers, personal projects or academic endeavours, by re-envisioning the world we all live in and demanding greater accessibility within it.

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More on the author, Julia Rignot

Communications Officer at Be My Eyes

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