In a world where technology can serve as an alternative to physical interaction between people –
if not an outright replacement – lots has been said about how our smartphones are making us antisocial and unhealthy. But the Be My Eyes app both harnesses and advances what is, really, the heart of ICT – human connection.
Be My Eyes launched in 2015 with the goal of making the world more accessible for blind and low-vision people. Technologies like audio description, screen magnification and Braille- and voice-operated devices are all great and important in increasing accessibility on a larger scale, but what about in the often time-pressing day-to-day? Like telling your shampoo bottle apart from the conditioner, or trying to find a pill you need to take after it’s accidentally fallen to the floor.
Enter Be My Eyes. This free app connects blind and low-vision people with volunteers from all over the world through a video call, both parties communicating directly to get whatever needs doing done. Be it figuring out the expiry date on a can of spaghetti at the supermarket or where the power outlets are in this hotel room, the assistant quite literally becomes the user’s eyes.
When you sign up as a volunteer, you’re told it might be weeks before your first call, thanks to the current ratio of at least 16 assistants to every blind or low-vision user on the app. And when the call does finally come through and it turns out you’ve got your hands full at that particular moment in time, well, that’s just fine, because with more than two million volunteers (and counting), someone else will answer the call, and in the user’s language of choice too – help can be requested in over 180.
The app’s Specialized Help feature debuted early in 2018, Microsoft being the first partner company. It’s now been joined by Google, and services from both organisations are available in New Zealand. Once again through video call, users can get the help they need directly from a representative of Microsoft’s Disability Answer Desk or Google’s Disability Support team. And the people behind Be My Eyes are open to suggestions on what other organisations and companies could be added into Specialized Help.
Here at Able, we’re all for the increased accessibility of products and services, and we’re proud of our contribution to this in New Zealand. But what warmed this writer’s heart is the rather lovely thought that there are so many people across the borders of more than 150 countries who want to help ol’ mate Joe Bloggs in Podunk, Connecticut (seriously, it’s a real place – look it up) figure out if this shirt matches those pants. There is good in the world.
Shrutika, Team Leader – Able Caption Editors