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'Be My Eyes' app lets you help the visually impaired see

A new app called 'Be My Eyes' connects volunteers with blind people through a video call to help with simple daily tasks that can prove to be big challenges.

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    When you are visually impaired, a simple task like reading food labels can prove tough. A new app called "Be My Eyes" calls on virtual volunteers to assist the visually impaired through these tasks with a smart phone video call.
    Courtesy of Be My Eyes
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A new nonprofit app called “Be My Eyes” connects blind people with a sighted person through a video call to provide immediate assistance with a simple task that can prove difficult without vision.

This allows blind people to quickly step over a small hurdle, and lets anyone with a smart phone become a virtual, visual Good Samaritan.

“It only takes a minute to choose the right tin can from the shelf, look at the expiration date on the milk or find the right thing to eat in the fridge - if you have full vision that is,” says the Be My Eyes team on its website. “For visual impaired individuals smaller tasks in their home can often become bigger challenges. Be My Eyes hopes to change that!”

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Here’s how it works. If a visually impaired person faces a challenge – anything from the above scenarios to being unsure what a sign says – they log onto the Be My Eyes app and request a volunteer. The app then opens a video chat with the volunteer, where the volunteer can use video and speech to help.

The app was envisioned by Hans Jørgen Wiberg, a 50-year-old craftsman in Copenhagen who has been visually impaired since he was 25. He saw the increased capability in video chatting on mobile devices as an opportunity for acts of “micro-volunteering,” especially to aid the visually impaired community. Be My Eyes, the nonprofit start-up behind the app, is backed by the Danish Blind Society, the Velux Foundations, and the software development studio Robocat.

“The app makes it possible to get help at times where it might be inconvenient to get help from neighbors or friends, and you don’t have to go apologetically and ask for help,” says John Heilbrunn, the vice chairman of The Danish Association of the Blind, in a release.

And don’t worry if you’re a volunteer and can’t help at a given moment. Part of the app is also creating a network of volunteers, so even if one person isn’t available to help, someone else will be waiting in the wings. Though the app is currently only available on iOS and was launched on Thursday, more than 16,000 people have signed up to volunteer to help the more than 1,400 blind users who have signed up for assistance. So far, there have been 2,641 instances of help (as of Jan. 16).

Just because we live in a digitally connected world doesn’t mean we can’t use those digital tools to connect with others, Mr. Wiberg says.

“It is flexible, takes only a few minutes to help and the app is therefore a good opportunity for the busy, modern individual with the energy to help others,” he says in the release.

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