One mobile phone application is helping the blind and visually impaired community like nobody has before. Be My Eyes, an app that is operated via a simple press of a button, is transforming lives around the world — and it’s not just for those who use the service for their own benefit.
Be My Eyes Community Director Alexander Jensen talked with RewardExpert about the app’s rapid growth and how it’s making people more empathetic around the globe.
How it Works
The app was started by inventor Hans Jorgen Wiberg, who is legally blind himself and has tunnel vision. Officially launching on Feb. 15, 2015, the app’s intention was to change how the blind and visually impaired communicate on a daily basis — using live video rather than calling someone on the phone.
“From day one the company exceeded everyone’s expectation,” Jensen said. After launch there were approximately 10,000 users in 30 different countries. Then, people reached out and wanted to participate. That led to massive community growth in the present time, in the form of 145 different languages being used by approximately 863,000 sighted volunteers and almost 59,000 blind users.
The app is easy to use: A visually impaired individual opens the app and chooses a language to speak with a random volunteer who has offered their services. Users are matched based on language and whatever time zone in which they are located. For example, a Spanish-speaking blind person needing help in the middle of the night would request someone in a particular part of the globe. That ensures 24-hour access.
Users can ask volunteers for help in various ways: Checking on expiring dates of food products; finding route information for a local bus; or setting an air conditioner or heater to the right temperature.
It’s completely free to use the app. Jensen said it’s the company’s philosophy to be financially accessible, notably when such services could be expensive.
“Our mission is essentially to bring sight to everyone, everywhere,” he said. “And to do that we have to keep the service free. The world was poorly designed for people with visual impairments, so having something to help you in situations … leads to more independent lives.”
Simple and Effective
Jensen said there are 243 million blind or low-vision people in the world. When an Apple or Android user can sign in, select a language and push to connect to a volunteer, it changes the game. Every call is answered by one of the volunteers located worldwide in under 30 seconds.
Volunteers don’t get paid, but there are still between 1,000 and 5,000 of them taking calls every day. But why? Jensen said it shows the pureness of human interaction on a global scale.
“It’s a good and interesting sneak peek into the world of being blind,” he said. “You can ask yourself, ‘When is the last time you did something for a complete stranger?’ Doing something for someone else feels nice. I think it’s something that is in all of us.”
Growing the Service
Be My Eyes is a small company with limited resources and no traditional marketing plan. The popularity and growth is attributed to the users and volunteers who see the importance of the app. It’s become a social media craze, spreading the importance of genuine human connections.
“It’s easy for people to understand the value of this application, and human connection,” he said. “We live in a world where you don’t always see the nicest things on the news.”
There’s no pressure to answer every call as a volunteer, providing flexibility for those who want to help but don’t always have time.
A new feature coined “specialized help” allows volunteers to get a hold of users’ companies, handling different inquiries that are more specific and rooted in customer service. It also encourages users to use the app more often.
For now, tens of thousands of people are using the app, with many offering to “be my eyes” for someone else.