In 2015, APH VisionAware published a post by Audrey Demmitt, peer advisor, about a new app called “Be My Eyes.” In the post, Audrey said, “ I am visually impaired and recently tried this app on the recommendation of my optometrist John Henahan, who also wrote about his experience.” Dr. Henahan said, “I love being an eye doctor!… As eye doctors, we have a variety of special tools available to us to help those with vision impairment, but sometimes there is no substitute for a pair of eyes to see something. By initiating a video chat, [a person who is blind or low vision] can ask a friend or family member for assistance if they are available. The problem is that there isn’t always a friend or family member available… That is where you and I can help. A brilliant new App called Be My Eyes has recently launched.”
Fast Forward to 2023
In case you haven’t heard the news, The APH ConnectCenter is excited to announce our recent partnership with Be My Eyes, the app that many adults who are blind or low vision have come to love and use for assistance from a sighted volunteer. Be My Eyes now features the APH ConnectCenter listed in the “Specialized Help” section of the app. Simply tap to browse “Specialized Help,” select Blindness Organizations, and touch the “APH ConnectCenter” to be connected to an agent in seconds who can assist with questions and provide resources relating to life with low vision and blindness.
What Is the History of Be My Eyes?
According to Audrey’s post, the idea for Be My Eyes originates from the Danish furniture craftsman Hans Jørgen Wiberg who started losing his vision at age 25. He wanted to make the everyday lives of people who are blind or low vision easier and to provide a new flexible opportunity to volunteer. To quote 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.”
What Does the Be My Eyes App Do?
The Be My Eyes app helps people who are blind or low vision “see” to complete a task that requires vision. Through a direct video call, the app offers help from a sighted volunteer who can see and describe the situation by using the user’s smartphone video camera. So, in that way, the person who is blind or low vision and the sighted volunteer work together to solve the problem.
How Did It Help Audrey in 2015?
“On my first call, someone in Stockholm, Sweden answered. It was morning for me and evening for them. The volunteer helped me choose between a regular coffee and a decaf coffee pod for my Keurig. All I had to do was point my phone at what I wanted to see, and it showed up on the camera. The call lasted a minute or so. After thanking the volunteer, I tapped at the bottom of the screen to disconnect the call.”
Other Peers Chime in On Their Recent Experiences
Elizabeth has a similar story of utilizing assistance from someone in another country. “On my way back from a meeting, I had planned to eat out at a Chinese restaurant on my own, but when I got there, the door was locked. I called Be My Eyes to see if something was on the door to explain the closure. The young lady who answered had an accent, but she had no trouble reading the sign stating the unexpected shutdown amidst the pandemic. In the background, I could hear the nasal honking of horns that sounded different from those in the USA. After our work talk, I asked her where she was. “I’m in Cairo, Egypt,” she said. “I was waiting for my bus.” So, there we had an Arab-language volunteer from the Middle East reading a Chinese restaurant sign to an American. Gotta love it! “
“Today I was trying to use my new battery operated can opener, call Kitchen Mamma. I am tired of manual can openers, so I bought this one. Well, I got the batteries in okay but for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how to get my can open.
So, I called Be My Eyes, and a couple attempted to help me. It was hard to hold the phone and the can opener and to keep the can from slipping. But I was able to do it. The funny thing is they were giving me directions, but I was not understanding. I thought I had to place the top where the metal magnet is located on the top of the can. Actually, the magnet needed to be on the edge of the can, where the lid is located. I realized my mistake, and the volunteers were extremely helpful and patient as I tried several times to figure it out. They even offered to Google it and find online directions. Once we all figured it out, the can opener started to work. WooHoo! It was a good experience, and I got that darn can opened!”
“I live in a low-income residential area. Last summer I trained with a new guide dog. He is skilled at letting me know when to be careful of my footing, guiding me around obstacles in our path and clearing me from coming into contact with limbs, poles, parked cars, and other dangers. However, he doesn’t know where I want to go until I instruct him. I got confused when he walked diagonally across an intersection. The problem was that to cut costs, the curb cuts were placed on the apex of the corner. To the dog, bringing me to the center of the down curb lined me up with a similar curb cut on the diagonal corner. There was no traffic, so I didn’t detect the problem until I had gone some distance. I turned around to try to retrace my steps. The Bluetooth headset I use to access a GPS App had run out of power and turned off. Confused and uncertain, I called for a Be My Eyes volunteer. He stayed online having me go to the nearest intersection and slowly turn until he could see the street sign. Then he described the buildings he could see to help me verify which way I needed to proceed to get back home. He was on the phone with me about 20 minutes until I was confident I knew how to get home.”
Learn more or download the app. The Be My Eyes app is free and available for iPhone or Android users.
Stay tuned for additional posts about how Be My Eyes is working for APH ConnectCenter callers. The APH ConnectCenter empowers people of all ages who are blind or low vision toward greater independence and lifelong success by providing curated information and resources. In addition to reaching the APH ConnectCenter through the Be My Eyes app, you can call 1-800-232-5463 (M-F, 8a-8p ET) or email email@example.com.