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New App Uses Smartphone Cameras To Connect Blind Users to Sighted Volunteers

Imagine this: you are blind and you’re trying to cook marinara sauce alone in your apartment. You have two cans in your kitchen cabinet, and you know one is crushed tomatoes—but the other is pie filling, which would taste terrible on pasta. Normally this would be a huge annoyance, but with Be My Eyes, all you have to do point your cellphone camera at the cans and somebody will tell you whether it’s the one on the left or right. Problem solved!

That’s the vision—pun totally intended, by the way—of Be My Eyes founder Hans Jørgen Wiberg, who first presented the idea at a Denmark start up event in late 2012 and has since grown the company into a nonprofit that’s facilitated over 23,000 different interactions between its users. The app connects blind users (who, in case you were curious, are totally capable of using smartphones via the VoiceOver feature on the iPhone or the Google TalkBack service for Android) to sighted volunteers from around the world who can help them with everyday tasks such as looking for expiration dates on food items, finding the right doorbell on an apartment complex, reading flyers—basically anything that would take you only a couple of seconds if you can see.


As an added bonus, the app game-ifies the process for its volunteers, allowing people to “level up” the more they interact with the app and vetting them for future interactions—although there’s also a way to report malicious or unhelpful users as well, just in case. And if you get a call as a volunteer but you’re unable to pick up the phone, you can ignore it and it will go to another random user in the app’s database.

Of course, it might take a while for you to get a call at all—as The Telegraph reports, currently there are over 103,000 registered volunteers for 8,500 blind users, and that’s just for iPhone users, as the company is still working on a comparable Android version. But the app is free to download (for now, at least; Be My Eyes still needs to come up with a sustainable business model and might consider a subscription service for its users), and only takes a few minutes to use. Plus, there’s some pretty cute hold music if you’re the one making a call. To hear it in action, here’s a recording from UK composer Kevin Satizabal of his experience with the service:


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