Technology is constantly changing how we go about our daily lives. And it's not just about instant access to information and social media connections; assistive technologies are also helping people who have vision, speech and hearing challenges.
Built-in system features like magnifiers, voice-overs, speech-to-text, digital assistants and touch accommodations are welcome features that make it easier for people who have impaired senses to operate their gadgets. But what about the world around them?
This is where apps like Microsoft's Seeing AI and the blind assistance app Be My Eyes are trying to make a difference.
What is Be My Eyes?
Be My Eyes is a free app out that allows sighted people to "lend their eyes" to those with visual impairments through video chat.
This is how it works. Through the Be My Eyes app, blind or visually impaired individuals can request assistance from a random sighted volunteer who will be notified on their phone.
When a volunteer accepts the request for assistance, the app will open a live video/audio chat between the two parties. Through this chat, an impaired user can then ask the volunteer about their surroundings using their phone's rear-facing camera.
The free service is available 24/7 and assistance is matched with the requester's language and time zone. The Be My Eyes team claim 90% of calls can be matched within 60 seconds.
Practical uses to help the legally blind
Just for a moment, I want you to close your eyes and imagine that you cannot see. Try to complete basic tasks, like checking the expiration date on the carton of milk in the refrigerator, or getting to the right side of the street to catch the bus.
Think of all the questions you might have because you can't see.
For example, I once connected with a young man who wanted to know the expiration date of the milk in his refrigerator. He positioned his phone’s camera to the top shelf.
Looking at the image of the milk carton on my phone, I said, "I wouldn't drink that if I were you." He laughed, thanked me and that was the end of our call.
As you can imagine, the opportunities for helping out a blind or visually impaired person are virtually endless. It goes beyond checking expiration dates and food labels. Volunteers can help out with just about anything - bus numbers, finding lost keys, shopping, handyman help, even for matching clothes.
It may just be a short, random act of kindness from you, but it could mean a world of difference to the blind.
How to download the app and be a volunteer
If you want to join the over a half million sighted volunteers assisting around 38,000 visually impaired users of the Be My Eyes community, download the iOS or the new Android app by clicking the blue links below.
With Be My Eyes, you can even do something fun while helping another person, download the app and check it out!
Another app also aims to help the blind
This other breakthrough app uses image recognition and artificial intelligence to help the blind "see the world around them." Click here to learn more about it.