A new iPhone app aimed at assisting the blind through video chat proves that modern technology has no limits. It’s innovative, but how efficient is it in reality?
Be My Eyes was originally developed in 2012 by Hans Jorgen Wiberg, a visually impaired man from Denmark. His goal is to help people like himself who struggle with simple daily tasks because of their visual handicap. The free, non-profit app finally released earlier this year and is slowly growing in popularity.
Using the app is simple: A person with sight connects to someone who is blind via video chat (sort of like FaceTime) and assists them with small tasks. What role a person plays in the process is established upon opening the app for the first time: “Are you sighted or are you blind?” Those who are sighted watch a short video that explains the intentions of the app. For example, a blind man shows a sighted helper the expiration date on his milk over camera. In response, the sighted man says, “That milk is way too old.”
Participants have the ability to make an account once the video finishes. After an account is made, all that’s left to do is wait for a call for help. Blind members can request help anytime at the touch of a button. Whether they need help telling the difference between two cans of food or help finding their way through a new house/city, a Be My Eyes member will always be around to help.
An alert pops up on a sighted person’s phone when such help is requested, which they can either ignore or accept. If the person chooses to ignore it, the responsibility carries over to someone else. If they accept it, the blind person shows them the problem over video and receives the help they need. Not to mention, each time a sighted person chooses to help out, 50 points are added to their profile. This gives members more initiative, as they can level up from reaching a certain amount.
I heard about Be My Eyes a few times and fell in love with the creative idea of helping those in need using a phone app. Phone apps are not typically used to serve a selfless purpose, so this idea seemed revolutionary.
After I made my Be My Eyes account, I anticipated a short wait for my first notification. Unfortunately, I’ve had an account for almost a week and no request for assistance has been sent my way.
According to the Be My Eyes Network at the bottom of the app’s homescreen, there are over 111k sighted members and only a mere 9.53k blind members. The app is still gaining a reputation, but the huge gap between sighted and blind is a flaw that could potentially cause problems for the company’s success in the future. The number of sighted members and blind members should be somewhat equal so that everyone gets a chance to help or be helped.
I’m not the only one who’s experienced this problem. A few reviews on the App Store state similar issues on both ends — blind members haven’t been helped and sighted members haven’t been asked for help, most likely due to issues with their servers. The company behind Be My Eyes needs to work out connection issues and let the world know about their app to avoid both issues.
Overall, the intentions of Be My Eyes are great and definitely set a precedent for future apps. Like any new app though, there are still a few network and connection problems that restrict Be My Eyes from its full potential to change lives around the world.
So far, Be My Eyes claims that 26.5k people have been helped since it’s launch earlier this year. The number only continues to grow, and will hopefully reach sky-high numbers soon enough.