Be My Eyes and BeSpecular: the apps bringing volunteering into the digital world

We explore two apps that connect a visually impaired or blind user with a sighted volunteer, and chat to our Community Services Development Manager Mark Belcher who shares with us his experience as a volunteer on the apps.

BeSpecular and Be My Eyes work by connecting a visually impaired or blind user to a sighted volunteer, who help them to navigate the world around them. One great benefit is that the apps use technology to bring volunteering into the home, which Mark highlights as a reason for signing up. He says,

“I’m interested in technology and exploring new ways to support people. Having a full-time and part-time job, volunteering at Park Run Wilmslow, and having a lovely wife with a young daughter – time is pretty tight trying to volunteer in the field I work in, but I thought these apps would enable me to help people quickly and effectively.” We explore the two apps and their use in more detail:

Be My Eyes

BeMyEyes

How does it work?

This free app connects a visually impaired person to a sighted volunteer via a live video link. The volunteer can then essentially ‘be their eyes’ and assist them in whatever task they need help with, such as checking expiry dates on food or checking ingredient lists. For example, the user can point the camera towards a shelf in the supermarket, and the volunteer could tell them where the product they need is located. Essentially, Be My Eyes allows visual pieces of information and details to be accessible for everyone.

The idea for the app came from 50-year old Hans Jørgen Wiberg from Denmark, who started losing his vision and hearing when he was 25 from Usher Syndrome. Wiberg found that people with visual impairments sometimes felt they were overburdening family and friends with constant requests for help with simple tasks, and an app that connected someone with a VI and volunteers would be “a good opportunity for the busy, modern individual with the energy to help others.”

Watch Mark explain in the short video below:

Ease of use

You register on the app as either a visually impaired user or sighted volunteer. Currently, there is a huge community of volunteers – 1,242,030! – and around 78,000 users, spreading across the world with over 180 languages. Two great advantages are – as a user, you’ll never have to wait for more than a minute for help, and as a volunteer, you’ll never receive calls before 7am or after 10pm (so no late night wake-ups!)

Be My Eyes is very well subscribed with volunteers, so getting the opportunity to help is pretty much like winning the lottery. It needs more visually impaired users to sign-up so volunteers don' get frustrated waiting to help! I haven’t had too many opportunities; just two in fact. The first one was a guy asking me to tell him the cheapest thing on the menu, the other was to find a wedding ring on the floor of a hotel room.

Mark

BeSpecular

BeSpecular

How does the app work?

The app allows visually impaired users  – referred to as ‘VIPs’ – to take a photograph of something which they need more detail about, attach a voice message asking a question, and then send it to a sighted volunteer – referred to as ‘Sightlings’. The volunteer is then able to respond to their question via voice message or text message. For example, a VIP can take a photo of an outfit for a party and ask whether it looks good – a Sightling can then offer advice and wish the VIP a good time at the party. The app works on the same principle as ‘Be My Eyes’, by making visual information accessible to everyone.

Watch Mark explain more in the short video below:

Ease of use

The BeSpecular community is open to everyone and you don’t need to undertake training to volunteer. If a volunteer takes too long to respond to a notification then it will be sent to another, so no user will wait long for a response.

I’ve helped twice; one to confirm if the photograph was clear and one to explain what I could see on a computer screen. BeSpecular is currently in testing phase… but so far I do like it; it does compliment Be My Eyes too.

Mark

If you want to sign-up as a user or volunteer for this app – Be My Eyes is free to download from Apple on the App store, or from Android on the Google Play store.

If you’re interested in keeping up with the latest tech tips, why don’t you join our Tech Talk group? Tech Talk meet every month in Liverpool and across Greater Manchester to discuss all the new advancements in assistive technologies.

People of all abilities are more than welcome, and you can even participate remotely! For more information, please email manchester@henshaws.org.uk or ring 0300 222 5555.

This blog was originally posted in April 2016, and was updated in May 2018 to reflect up-to-date information.

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Lizzie
Lizzie
Lizzie is a volunteer for our fundraising and marketing teams at our Manchester office. She studied at Manchester University and has a passion for screenwriting.