A few years ago, Godwin from Accra, Ghana was affected by retina problems which eventually left him visually-impaired. An engineer by profession, he struggled a lot to cope up with life during the initial days. Soon, assistive technology came to his rescue. However, no human being enjoys the constant company of Artificial Intelligence, be it in his professional or personal life.
Godwin too felt disconnected from the human touch at times. That is why, when he learnt about Be My Eyes app in 2015, he was immediately interested. It enabled him to connect with sighted volunteers from any part of the world through video calls. They assist him in a wide range of tasks – be it checking if his lights are on, to check his blood pressure reading or to connect his WiFi. In fact, Godwin recently took help through the app for some demonstration during a lecture at a university, which left the audience amazed.
“Applications like Be My Eyes are excellent – very easy to use. And I tell you, the people are so wonderful, so willing to assist,” says Godwin, now a regular user of Be My Eyes.
The blind furniture-maker who founded Be My Eyes
“Imagine you are blind. You’re cooking in your kitchen, listening to the recipe through a screen reader. The next step instructs you to add coconut milk. You open your cupboard and feel two cans. Now, you wonder, which one of it is coconut milk? While hesitation and inhibition cross your mind, you still have no choice but to grab your cane and walk over to your neighbour’s house, maybe for the second time that day,” narrates Hans Jorgen Wilberg, the visually-impaired founder of Be My Eyes, illustrating a very common situation in a blind person’s everyday life.
This is where Be Me Eyes can be the saviour. While most of the innovations for visually-impaired people continue to centre around technology, Wilberg harnessed a basic technology and added the human touch to it, making it one of the most favoured assistive apps around the world. Launched in January 2015, Be My Eyes has 19,63,530 registered volunteers who aid 1,17,251 blind users across over 150 countries and in more than 180 native languages.
Wilberg, who is a craftsman from Denmark, was suggested by a friend to use video calling feature to approach his acquaintances for any help. The idea struck him, and soon he got connected with a tech team who stepped forward to build his dream app and pool volunteers from everywhere. The rest is history.
Sarah’s morning sorting ritual
Every morning, Sarah from Dublin, Ireland faced a lot of struggle to choose among her toiletries. Be it the hair conditioner or the moisturiser or the foundation, sorting her collection of cosmetics was a regular hassle until volunteers from different parts of the world came to her rescue. Sarah is blind from birth. One morning, through a radio podcast, she came to know about Be My Eyes. Now every day, she meets a new volunteer from any part of the world, who gladly helps her out in the daily sorting routine. It’s simple. Sarah shows her bottles to the volunteer who easily informs her of what it is.
“I never realised how important it would be to just have a pair of eyes when you need them. You don’t have to ask the same people all the time,” shares Sarah, who finds it exciting to bond with strangers who make her mornings easier and happier.
All over the globe
The beneficiaries of the app are spread across the globe. Take the example of 55-year-old construction worker Jose Ranola from the Philippines, whose critical medicines are carefully identified by volunteers through a simple video call, reports The Guardian. Australian mother Brenda Smith manages her chores smoothly with Be My Eyes, be it distinguishing the white and the brown bread or checking expiry dates on stored items.
In 2018, Be My Eyes partnered with Microsoft to launch the Specialised Help feature, which allows blind and partially-blind individuals to connect with official representatives from companies or access customer support.
Efforts For Good take
In developed countries, Braille has almost been completely replaced by screen readers, audiobooks and other AI-based technology which had made lives a lot easier for the visually-impaired. However, the situation is not so hopeful in developing countries, including India, where such technology is expensive and inaccessible in remote interiors. However, the internet is something widely available everywhere nowadays. Be My Eyes app requires nothing but a basic internet connection and a working phone camera. Thus, it has the potential to be the perfect companion for blind people in villages, whose daily struggles know no bounds, often accentuated by apathy and discrimination from insensitive people. Efforts For Good hopes more Indians learn to use Be My Eyes and get all the necessary assistance in no time. Willing do-gooders can also sign up as volunteers to be the eyes for your fellow citizens whose eyesight is compromised.