In the oversaturated app market, one has reached a frequently neglected demographic: blind people.

Be My Eyes, created by Hans Jorgen Wiberg in 2015, pairs volunteers with blind or visually impaired people in need of help with small, everyday tasks. These can range from reading an expiration date on a carton of milk to describing the color of a shirt. Wanting to be of help, I volunteered my eyes, ready to answer the call of a person in need of a snack or an opinion on an outfit.

There is one flaw with the app, albeit a heart-warming one: the number of volunteers signed up, which are in the millions, far outnumber the 138,455 blind or low-vision people using it. I waited for a call to help someone in visual need, but there were too many volunteers in my way.

I got in touch with Alexander Hauerslev Jensen, the CCO of Be My Eyes, who told me the app’s origin story. Wiberg, who is visually impaired himself, spoke at the Danish Association of the Blind. There, he learned that Facetiming friends and family for assistance with simple tasks was how they navigated tasks they needed help with. Be My Eyes was created as a more efficient platform, allowing its users to be more independent while not having to always rely on personal relationships.

An app to connect blind people with volunteers for visual aid



Be My Eyes: an app to connect blind people with volunteers for visual aid. Photograph: Be My Eyes

“When we launched, we didn’t know if people would be willing to volunteer time to help complete strangers,” Jensen tells me. “But within the first 24 hours, we had more than 10,000 volunteers.”

After explaining that I hadn’t received any calls, I was told to look out for calls the next day. “Stay very close to your phone”, Jensen said, “because you have to be quick to get them”.

So I waited. When it finally rang, the timing couldn’t have been worse. I was mid-commute on the subway and had just gone into a tunnel. I decided not to answer for fear of dropping the call. I knew there were hundreds of thousands of people that were able to help the person I just declined to answer.

“The fact that we have so many volunteers enables us to have a really fast response time. I see it as a good problem,” he says. “It takes a few minutes to make a big impact on someone else’s life. This is a combination of technology and human generosity.”

I finally received another video call in my office. “Hello,” I answered, “how may I help you?” The man on the line told me he was from Pakistan and that he needed help with reading. I was asked to read the directions off the box of his insta kheer (a south asian rice pudding). After a few fumbling attempts to get him to move his phone a little to the left and a little to the right, I could see the directions clear as day on the side of the green Crispo branded box. And while he spoke perfect English, the directions, however, were in another language and script – Urdu.

I could not disappoint my first caller. While by circumstance, I could read Urdu, I decided I wanted to be sure about the information I was relaying to my new friend. I asked him to hang on but I could sense he felt like I wouldn’t be able to help him. I quickly googled the directions in English for the rice pudding of this particular brand. Elated by the success of my super sleuthing, I read him the simple instructions.

“Bring 1 litre of milk to a boil. Add in the rice pudding packet. Stir mixture continuously until thick. Turn off heat and let cool. Serves 6-8 people.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” he said sweetly to me. “God bless you.”

At first glance, Be My Eyes is a chance for anyone to help the blind or visually disabled people, but perhaps a better description for this experience is charitable reciprocation. I helped a man make a midnight snack, but he helped me by allowing me to feel useful. I look forward to sharing the eyes I once took for granted with others in the near future, that is, if I can answer the call in time.



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