TL; DR: Be My Eyes, a global online community that connects blind and low-vision individuals with sighted volunteers via live video calls, is enabling greater independence through the power of human generosity. Accessible in more than 150 countries and over 180 languages, the free app is available for both iOS and Android. As new companies partner with Be My Eyes to improve customer service for blind and low-vision individuals, the organization continues to do its part in making the world more accessible.
Many freshman college students experience first-day jitters when leaping from a cushy high school environment to a vast university campus. But while journeying into uncharted waters is tricky for sighted students, it’s much more challenging for blind and low-vision individuals.
Take Shaun, a university student from Michigan, for example. When it was time to start at a new campus, Shaun feared being labeled, in his words, “as the blind guy who people felt obligated to help.” So he turned to Be My Eyes, an app made up of a global community that connects people who are blind or have low vision with sighted volunteers through a live video call. “After using this app, I just sat down, and I realized that I felt a true sense of independence,” Shaun said. “It was a truly groundbreaking moment for me.”
Hans Jørgen Wiberg, a Danish furniture craftsman who is visually impaired himself, launched Be My Eyes in January 2015 to help individuals like Shaun live independently and efficiently. “From day one, it was a global phenomenon,” said Alexander Hauerslev Jensen, CCO at Be My Eyes. “We had about 1,000 users in more than 30 countries and more than 10,000 volunteers within the first 24 hours.”
Today, Be My Eyes functions as the largest online community for blind and low-vision people worldwide, with support available in 150 countries and more than 180 languages. The free app leverages the power of technology, generosity, and personal connection to help blind and low-vision people lead independent lives. As the platform continues to evolve, Be My Eyes has one overarching goal: to make the world more accessible for blind and low-vision people.
The Largest Online Community for Blind and Low-Vision People
Alexander told us the Be My Eyes community comprises three groups: blind and low-vision users, sighted volunteers, and companies. When a user needs assistance, he or she can connect with a friendly volunteer through the app, which users turn to for tasks like reading food labels, distinguishing colors, and navigating unfamiliar surroundings.
They can also connect with customer representatives at select companies for efficient and accessible customer support. “Our users have two options; they can call a volunteer if they want to get help, say, wrapping a Christmas present or reading instructions found on a recipe,” Alexander said. “Or, for complex problems with products, they can call companies such as Microsoft directly through the Be My Eyes app to communicate via live video.”
Alexander said no task is too big or too small for Be My Eyes volunteers, who are proud to be a part of a global community that fosters human connection. Everyday tasks include finding lost or dropped items, describing pictures, matching or explaining colors, reading product labels, identifying expiration dates, navigating new places, and distinguishing between items.
For Leo, a Bosnia-based volunteer, dedicating time to the app isn’t about helping another person — instead, it’s about forming a special connection. “It is not a disability,” Leo said in a testimonial on the Be My Eyes website. “It’s completely functional diversity. The things [the blind] can [perceive are] something different than what we can see. What’s the normality, or what’s the disability in this case?”
An Android- and iOS-Compatible App with Assistance in 185 Languages
The Be My Eyes app, currently compatible with Android and iOS, is available for users and volunteers free of charge. “We have close to 2 million volunteers right now who are willing to take time out of their day to help blind and low-vision people do more,” he said. “Our vast network enables us to provide this service in 185 different languages, which is something we’re proud of.”
The app matches users with volunteers based on primary language and time zone. Users who speak more than one language can set Be My Eyes to secondary languages as well. In the case that there aren’t any volunteers available who speak the primary language of the user, Be My Eyes will connect the user with a volunteer who speaks their secondary language.
There is no limit on the number or length of calls users can make. In fact, due to a large community of eager volunteers, many are still awaiting their first call. This means that users rarely have to wait for a volunteer. “It should not take more than a minute to get connected,” Alexander said.
Users can even call for help in the middle of the night. For example, Be My Eyes could pair an English-speaking volunteer in Australia with an English-speaking user based in the U.S. who needs help in the middle of the night. This way, the volunteer still works during daytime hours, while the user gets help day and night.
Enabling Greater Independence Through Human Generosity
From the beginning, the team behind Be My Eyes knew the technology had the potential to better the lives of people around the globe. But it wasn’t clear whether volunteers would be selfless enough to spend time assisting blind and low-vision individuals they didn’t know.
“It turns out there are some amazing people out there who really want to make a difference,” Alexander said. “The combination of technology and human generosity is really something — it allows blind and low-vision people to live more independent lives, but also gives sighted volunteers and option to participate in a very special way.”
Alexander said the company’s goal is to make the user experience as simple as possible, even for users who are not tech-savvy. To ensure the product is hitting the mark, Be My Eyes employs several blind people, who run extensive tests on the app before updates are released. The company also turns to its highly engaged community for feedback and requests.
And, because no one wants to sacrifice anonymity for greater independence, Be My Eyes is designed to protect the private information of users. Volunteers do not receive the name, phone number, email address, or location of the user. Likewise, volunteers remain anonymous to users.
The Be My Eyes motto, “Everyone wins only when no one loses,” guides the company when it’s considering adding new features or finding a way to monetize the business. “A lot of investors will say, ‘Why don’t you charge users to use the application,’ or ‘Why don’t you put an advertisement in,’ and that just doesn’t feel true to the company that we are,” Alexander said. “Be My Eyes is a tool that should be available to anyone, anywhere.”
Improving Customer Support for 253M Blind and Low-Vision Individuals
Instead of charging users fees, Be My Eyes chooses to partner with companies that provide a small fee to enhance customer support using the platform. “This allows us to make the company a sustainable effort,” Alexander said.
At the moment, users can contact two groups: the Microsoft Disability Answer Desk and Be My Eyes Technical Support. The Microsoft product is part of Specialized Help, which enables blind and low-vision individuals to connect with official company representatives for accessible customer support. Launched in February 2018, the initiative may help increase customer retention through high accessibility standards.
“Soon, there will be a ton of new companies joining the platform,” Alexander said. “We are actively working to inspire industry leaders to sign on, and we think this effort will represent a huge shift toward making the world more accessible.”
If you’re one of the 253 million blind or low-vision individuals worldwide and you’re looking for assistance, Be My Eyes offers a Specialized Help request form where you can specify your needs. The company will then do its best to include them on the platform.
“We think of Specialized Help as an important step in making the world more accessible to those who are blind or have low vision,” Alexander said.