Why I care: This blog eyes to make health literacy accessible for all. When asked to contribute an article for ThotHealth, I started thinking about what is needed to provide health literacy for all: Accurate knowledge & access to health-related resources; literacy i.e. literally the ability to read (accurately in case of dyslexia); and something even more basic than that – to do with accessibility to not just health literature but any literature at all, something we usually take for granted – our eye SIGHT. I therefore decided to write about an app that uses video-call to connect blind or visually impaired people with sighted volunteers, to create instant visual assistance. This app with its sheer simplicity, free accessibility and use of current technology combines the best of all worlds. It just makes me, and now hopefully you, happy to be part of our innovative human race!
Why you should care: No matter what life path any of our readers are on, I believe one thing that connects us is our desire to make a difference in this world. What if you could do so with a few minutes of your time once or twice a month, using a device you already have and abilities you take for granted? SOUNDS AWESOME? If yes, then the BeMyEyes App is for you! If you are sighted then lend your eyes to blind/low vision people, or if you need visual assistance then access it on demand!
The basics: If you’ve used Skype, FaceTime or other video chat apps, you are on your way to becoming a Be My Eyes pro! After installing the app, through the live video call, a blind/low vision person and a volunteer can communicate directly and solve a problem. Problems can include checking expiry dates on food cartons, distinguishing colors so your clothes match (a bride has asked for help checking her appearance before she walked down the aisle), reading train departure board times or instructions (one blind reviewer wrote about using the app for help changing their computer RAM drive, so inspiring! I am tech-challenged so, though sighted, I can’t do that!).
When the blind/low vision person sends out a request, the app notification goes to multiple volunteers simultaneously, to maximize the possibilities of a response. The responding volunteer helps guide which direction to point the camera, what to focus on, etc. The app also attempts to pair important details like time zones and languages. Launched in 2015 in the App store, but with access now on Android devices, it currently has ~1.6 million volunteers and close to a million blind/low vision users in ~150 countries with over 180 languages represented!
$$$: As per WHO estimates, 36 million people worldwide are blind and 217 million have moderate to severe vision impairment. Combined, vision loss accounts for ~25 million years lived with disability, and is the third largest impairment globally. With over 90% of blind people living with lower income in countries like India & Africa, app founder Hans Jørgen Wiberg did not want to charge blind people or expect volunteers to pay, so they sought other sustainable funding ideas.
Initially, to attract volunteers the app had gaming elements and gave points when they helped someone. As volunteer sign-ups rapidly exceeded any expectations J, the point system became unnecessary!
A team member suggested connecting with Microsoft, to offer blind users technical support directly through Be My Eyes. Microsoft now pays Be My Eyes a monthly fee, and Be My Eyes is continuing to pursue a similar funding model.
Over 80% of all vision impairment can be prevented or cured, until we reach that ideal, I’m happy that this app is free & helping make the world more accessible.
What YOU can do RIGHT NOW: ThotHealth readers – YOU can make a difference!
If you are reading this, you are likely to be sighted, if not, then please spread the word in your blind/low vision circles. The almost sole complaint I saw among app reviewers is that they don’t get called on enough! So, we need more blind/low vision people to know. You won’t worry about imposing too often on your family & friends and will gain more independence.
For sighted readers, please do reach out to Blind Veterans associations if you have access to them and make them aware of this app.
Those of you who are interested/involved in mental health or related fields – perhaps people with dyslexia might also find this app empowering? I found this suggestion among the app reviews & thought it was brilliant but have limited knowledge about this field.
If you have connections in radio (eg. RadioMirchi in India or BBC WS Africa), please ask for the app to be featured? Since this app’s users are visually impaired, radio or podcasts could be some of the best outreach.
Very few apps are volunteer-powered; do you have other ideas for such apps but no time to follow up? PLEASE leave a comment below and we may do a feature on that!
If you are fortunate enough to be multilingual, please consider volunteering? Be My Eyes founder Wiberg (himself visually impaired) is thrilled with the number of volunteers & initially felt the app had enough volunteers but needed more awareness in the blind communities. However with the app’s growing global popularity, in a recent interview he said that they are always struggling to get enough volunteers who know all the languages their users speak. They have many users that they can’t communicate with and it is one of the challenges the app is facing.
Bottom line: You can make a difference – Just do it! There’s an app for that!