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Can Google’s Be My Eyes App Really Help Blind People See?

Imagine you’re blind and standing in your kitchen cooking dinner. The recipe says: “Add a can of coconut milk.” You open your kitchen cupboard, on the shelf, there are three cans. You know that only one of them is coconut milk. What do you do?

For the second time that day you walk over to your neighbour thinking: “He’s so helpful, I better ask him over for coffee soon." You ring his doorbell again and ask him to pick out the coconut milk. Doesn't that sound tedious?

There are a lot of situations like this in a blind person’s everyday life. Situations where you need a pair of eyes, just for a short moment. It’s Ok to ask your neighbour for help once in a while, but there is a limit.

The IOS and Android App stores now have this Google app called Be My Eyes, which is a new way to be a volunteer. It’s easy and convenient. You can volunteer to help out a blind person from anywhere.

As for the visually impaired person, he or she can ask for help through the app, without worrying about security or privacy issues. Volunteers and visually impaired users can choose to stay anonymous.

The app takes about 27 MB space on your phone. This app makes a video connection between the blind person’s phone and normally sighted person's phone - these are people who sign up as volunteers.

The app takes you through a five-step registration process. You can select whether you are a sighted volunteer or a blind/visually impaired person.

You can also signup using your Facebook account to make the process simpler. This app doesn't privately collect your personal data from your phone, it just asks for permissions to use the mic, camera and location access.

If you don’t want to login through Facebook, there is an option to signup via mail.

The next step is to select your language and proceed to the final step. You can always switch your language preference any time to one of 182 different languages.

How It Works

Just to experience what it would be like for a blind person to use, I signed up as a visually impaired person.

Once I got to the Home Screen of the app, it allowed me to call the first available volunteer. After pressing “Call first available volunteer” you will be connected with a volunteer in about 30 seconds.

When you tap on the “Call first available volunteer ’’ prompt (the prompts take up large areas of the screen to enable easy access for the visually impaired), the volunteer will get a push notification saying, someone needs your help.

If they choose to take it, a live video call will be established between you and a volunteer who is ready to help. This easy video call access facility is what sets this app apart from others.

The “Be My Eyes” volunteer just takes a look at his Phone and will describe the item he or she sees through your phone camera. You can just thank them for their help and be on your way.

(Photo Courtesy: Be My Eyes app)

From setting the temperatures on your oven, reading a piece of mail, adjusting the air conditioner, shopping at supermarkets, checking the expiration dates on foods, navigating and much more can be done through this two way communication process.

The app was started by somebody visually impaired himself. Right now nearly 80,000 blind and visually impaired people use the app. And there are 1.2 million volunteers who have signed up to help.

If you have ever considered volunteering to make this world a little bit better, but you didn’t have the time, this is an easy one.

If you are visually impaired, this app can help. It's safe enough, as there is a blocking feature which allows you to block a volunteer you don't get on with. Be My Eyes helps avoid awkward situations, by ensuring they don't get paired again.

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