If you are a regular reader of AccessWorld and own an iPhone or other iOS device, then you are likely already familiar with an accessibility assistant called Be My Eyes. This groundbreaking mobile app pairs sighted volunteers with individuals with visual impairments who would appreciate a bit of remote assistance. The app is free both to download and to use…and now it's also available for Android!
As with the iOS version, you can establish a Be My Eyes account using your Facebook ID or create an account using your email address. You are then asked if you wish to offer assistance or request assistance. Invoke the "Connect to first available helper" button to be connected with a sighted volunteer for a real time video session via the Tokbox video platform. It's a one-way connection: they can see what you show them; you cannot see them.
For more details on the Be My Eyes service and how it works, read our original review of the Be My Eyes Remote Sighted Helper App for Apple iOS in the February 2015 issue of AccessWorld. New users can then download the app from the iOS App Store, or, now, from Google Play for devices running Android version 4.4 or later. The interfaces are virtually identical.
The app was rebuilt from the ground up for Android. Android users will reap the benefits of a number of improvements the developer has made since the original Be My Eyes release in early 2015. "We've improved our connection algorithms to bring down the wait time significantly," says Be My Eyes Community Director, Alexander Hauerslev Jensen. "These days we've achieved an average wait time of just 30 seconds, and in the US the wait can often be as brief as 9 seconds."
Since the beginning the Be My Eyes app has offered the ability to "Share your Be My Eyes experience" at the conclusion of each session. With the latest iOS and Android versions you can now offer more detailed information, beginning with whether the experience was positive or negative. "This is a first step toward developing and implementing our most frequent request: the ability to 'favorite' specific helpers because you made a good personal connection or they have a degree of expertise in computers, cooking, or some other subject for which you make frequent session requests," says Hauerslev Jensen.
Hauerslev Jensen also states the team hopes eventually to include a kind of subject guide. "Perhaps you need help matching an outfit and would like to connect with someone who knows at least a little about fashion, or your computer isn't talking and you need help reenabling your screen reader. We can offer our sighted assistants a list of interests to check off, and between that and the user feedback we receive we can do an increasingly accurate job matching calls."
In just the first few days of the Android release over 2,500 blind individuals and 15,000 volunteer helpers have signed up for Be My Eyes. In total, as of this writing, there are 571,000 volunteers and just 41,000 registered assistant seekers, which leads to a unique problem that has plagued Be My Eyes from the outset. "We have too many volunteers who have never had the opportunity to answer a call," says Hauerslev Jensen, who cites an email he received that said: "I live in France and downloaded the app a long time ago. And for the first time tonight I had a call from a young man who needed my eyes to choose the color of a capsule of coffee. I am very glad I could help this person and wish I will get more calls in the future."
For others it's a labor of love. Shawn is 35 years old, comes from Washington, and started volunteering with Be My Eyes two years ago: "I wish I would get more calls, because I really love helping people out this way. I had an aunt who lost her vision due to macular degeneration as a result of diabetes. She was always game to try new assistive technologies. She passed away before I discovered Be My Eyes, but she loved her iPhone and would have loved your app. Every time I help somebody I think of how happy she would have been to have a tool like this. I've helped people sort greetings cards and clothes and read the label on a bottle of wine. And every time it made my day."
According to Hauerslev Jensen, the solution to the problem is simple: "We need more people requesting assistance, and more frequent calls from each Be My Eyes user."
What do you think? Can we help them out?