Disability Innovations: App lets volunteers lend their eyes to assist visually impaired people

Disability Innovations is a blog series that gathers some of the most interesting new products and services that aim to make disabled people’s lives easier. We hope it will inspire more innovation in the disability field.

What is Be My Eyes?

Be My Eyes is an iPhone app that connects visually impaired people with volunteer helpers from around the world via live video chat. The app allows sighted volunteers to ‘lend’ their eyes to a visually impaired person to assist them with tasks such as navigating their surroundings and identifying food labels. Hans Jørgen Wiberg, the app’s inventor says that “being visually impaired myself I know the challenges blind people face. It’s my hope that by helping each other as an online community, Be My Eyes will make a big difference in the everyday lives of blind people all over the world.”

What’s the idea?

From his personal experience, and his work for the Danish Blind Society, Hans Jørgen learned first hand that as resourceful and independent as people with visual impairments are, everyone needs help once in a while! As a non-profit app, Be My Eyes hopes to provide that help by creating a community all about contributing to and benefiting from small acts of kindness.

The idea behind the app is simple. To ‘ask for help’ a visually impaired user touches a button to request the assistance of a volunteer (the app itself is designed around users using iPhone VoiceOver technology).  The sighted volunteer then receives a notification for help which they can either ignore or accept. If they accept, the app uses live video technology to enable the visually impaired user to direct the camera on their smart phone to stream an image of the object they need to see to the sighted volunteer’s phone. The volunteer can then describe the objects or surroundings, and answer questions such as ‘when is the use by date on this carton of milk?’ Requests for help can currently only be made between 7am and 10pm and sighted volunteers can earn points and promotions to new levels of experience, the more people they help.

The power of the crowd

Not only does the app itself make the most of ‘the power of the crowd’ to help its visually impaired users, but it is also uses a network of volunteers to contribute to the technical side of things! To date, the app has already been ‘crowd translated’ into over 34 languages, (a Crowd sourcing platform which allows volunteers to contribute and approve translations online). The app itself is also ‘open source’, which means that the source code or how the app is built in coding is freely available online, for anyone to access, use, change or distribute. Be My Eyes hope that in doing so, more talented people will have the chance to improve the apps software and to continue to develop it by contributing with new features or fixing bugs.

The app is free to download on iOS and an android version is in development.  Be My Eyes has gathered over 160,000 sighted volunteers and 16,000 visually impaired users to date (that’s 10 volunteers to every user) and has made over 56,000 ‘helping connections’ in more than 80 languages.

Why we like it

We think that Hans Jørgen’s idea of a network of ‘good Samaritans’ to help others is a really interesting take on the idea of the ‘shared economy’. Be My Eyes has the potential to make a real difference in helping disabled people to live more independently by offering a new type of flexible support on hand, as and when required. We also love how it uses technology to create micro volunteering opportunities in such an easy, and informal way- you could even be ‘volunteering’ during your commute!

This blog is for information only. Scope does not endorse this product or service. We try to make sure our information is up to date and accurate at the time of publishing.

To tell us about a Disability Innovation, please email innovation@scope.org.uk.

Our family adapted to Uncle Paul’s life. It came naturally. – #100days100stories

Hannah Croft works at a Scope shop in Liverpool. She feels proud to support Scope as she remembers the support her family provided to her Uncle Paul. Read Hannah’s story in the next of our 100 days 100 stories campaign

Hannah and Uncle Paul

My name is Hannah and I work as an Assistant Store Manager in a Scope shop in Liverpool. I came across the job by chance. My Uncle Paul needed a lot of care and support following an illness and I knew that I would love my job as I would be contributing to the work of Scope which is all about supporting disabled people and their families.

My Uncle Paul was one of five children, with four sisters, including my mum Ann. At 13 Paul developed a brain tumour. The radio therapy he received affected his immune system and he contracted meningitis. This left him with neurological damage which meant he used a wheelchair and needed full-time care.

A family issue

The whole family adapted to fit around Uncle Paul’s life, it came naturally. At Christmas, birthdays and parties the family all went to my Nan’s home to be with Paul. My grandparents shift patterns worked around looking after Paul. My Aunt Margaret missed her last two years of school in order to help too. Later in life, Paul had a stroke. This left him bed bound and virtually unable to move. Margaret never left home, never got married and her job was to help care for Paul. She gave up most of her life to help her brother. After my granddad died the work for my Nan and Margaret in caring for Paul increased. They got no help.Though things were hard, Paul was pretty stable and most of my memories are good ones. My Nan and Margaret got no respite. Even though other family members offered help to give them a break, they were always thinking about him.

I remember as a small child sitting on Paul’s knee and colouring in with him. I would use his crayons and he would tell me where to colour. When I got older I learned to help and support Paul. I enjoyed this as I felt grown up and important to him. He lost the ability to speak and the only words I remember are ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and sometimes random swear words. This made us laugh. However explaining this to visitors was a different thing!

The care my family gave Paul was part of my life right from the beginning. He was treated with so much love and dignity. It has not only shaped the person I am but also every other member of my family. We are strong and stick together.

A better future

I would like to see disabled people and their families given more support. Nobody told my family how to care for Paul, they just had to learn. Nobody told us about support which could have made his life better.

Paul passed away in 2008. He was 54 years old. When he first became ill, my family were told he wouldn’t live past his teens.

Perhaps if we had known of Scope then, things could have been easier. I feel proud of my Uncle Paul and of my family and I am proud to work for an organisation that supports other disabled people and their families the way we would have liked.

Would you like to make a difference by sharing your story as part of our 100 days, 100 stories campaign? Please contact us at stories@scope.org.uk if you’d like to get involved.