While blind people are able to go about their day just like anyone else, simple everyday tasks can often present challenges. Whether it’s identifying the right public transit route for a commute, checking the expiration date of a carton of milk, or grabbing the right ingredients from the pantry for a meal, it may require assistance.
Founder of non-profit organization Be My Eyes, Hans Jørgen Wiberg, spent three years working for the Danish Blind Society consulting people about how to cope with visual impairment. Wiberg, who is visually impaired himself, found one common thread among all of the people he worked with: while the visually impaired often lean on friends and family to help them overcome everyday hurdles, they at times feel guilty asking for assistance. If they just ‘had a pair of eyes’ once or twice a day, they could accomplish a whole lot more on their own, without leaning on those closest to them.
That’s when Wiberg came up with the idea to build an application that enables visually impaired people to use their iPhones to ‘see’ with the help of a volunteer sighted individual. Be My Eyes partnered with Danish development shop Robocat to make this concept a reality.
While many visually impaired people are already use Skype and FaceTime, they still have to call their friends and family to ask for help. Using OpenTok, the Denmark based team built a iPhone app (with Android coming soon) that aims to match blind people who need assistance with one of a network of volunteers who are willing to help. They can start asking for help without really asking. Letting people into their house, without really letting them in.
Once registered, a volunteer will receive a notification when a blind person is seeking help. As soon as the volunteer accepts, a video connection is established between the two within the app. The camera is rear facing, which means the helper can see exactly what is in front of the visually impaired person. Helpers can then describe what they’re seeing and answer any questions.
Winberg sees this as part of a larger “micro-volunteering” movement. Someone can volunteer from anywhere, anytime – they could be standing in line at the supermarket, taking a break at work, or be out for a walk. It’s a whole way to give back.
“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” – Hans Jørgen Wiberg, Founder
This is a truly innovative use of WebRTC and OpenTok. Just a couple of weeks after launch, over 106,000 helpers have signed up to help around 8,980 blind people. That’s just the start. This is a huge success for the team and we wouldn’t be surprised to see the network grown even more in the coming weeks and months. We’re very proud to power this application and encourage you all to donate your time to the cause and sign up to become a Be My Eyes volunteer by downloading the app now.
Would you like to contribute to making the Be My Eyes application even better? Be My Eyes is an open source project hosted on Github.
To learn more about the mission of Be My Eyes, you can watch Hans Jørgen Wiberg’s presentation at TedXCopenhagen below.