Volunteerism is alive and well as demonstrated every day in the Be My Eyes app. The concept was conceived in 2012 by furniture craftsman Hans Jørgen Wiberg, who began losing his vision twenty-five years prior. It was his idea to provide access to sighted assistance for people with low vision or blindness. The app name leaves no doubt about its purpose. I recall being incredibly impressed in the early days of BME, when there were 150,000 volunteers, today there are over 6.4 million helping more than 480,000 people with vision loss. The fact that so many are interested in lending their eyes to a total stranger, is a testament to humanity.
Built on the kind assistance of humans, the BME app is now testing a “Virtual Volunteer” powered by ChatGPT-4. If you want to be part of the beta testing process, there is a registration page on the app, but no guarantee you’ll get in, there is a waiting list. In a post on Mashable, one of the participating testers, Lucy Edwards, is reported to have used the conversational AI tool as tour guide, food blog, reader of restaurant menus and fashion catalogs, language translator and personal trainer. It will be very interesting to see how this develops, live human kindness vs. Ai chatbot.
For now the all-live volunteers are able to offer their service, at times that are convenient to them. BME creates an opportunity to give back in a sort of micro-lending kind of way, in small increments of time, free of rigid scheduling commitments. The visually impaired user is able to call for help whenever it is needed, without feeling they are imposing. The volunteers are logged in because they are ready and willing to help someone, possibly you.
The app, available for iOS and Android, is designed with a fittingly friendly user interface. The two main options on the uncomplicated homepage are “Call a Volunteer” -or- “Get Trained Support”. Expert company representatives are available in the categories of: Assistive Technology, Beauty & Grooming, Blindness Organizations, Careers, Civic Engagement, Food & Beverage, Home & Cleaning, Personal Health or Technical Support. Participating companies include: Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Spotify, Pantene, Hadley, Lighthouse San Francisco, Accessible Pharmacy, Rite Aid and more.
The service is active in 150 countries and available in 185 languages. When you call a volunteer, BME sends out the request to the nearest available volunteers by location and language. There is no limit to the number of calls or time spent, however it is best to say, at the start of a call, if you expect the call to be lengthy. The app provides a rating system to register feedback about your experience, good or bad.
Here are 100 Ways to Use BME. I have used the app for assistance reading a thermostat, setting the oven temperature, reading hand-written notes and product directions. All these encounters with BME volunteers were pleasant, constructive and successful. There is a “Community” tab at the bottom of every page worth exploring for inspiring stories from users and volunteers.
And, by the way, all Be My Eyes Services are free.
Download the apps and learn more at BeMyEyes.com.
Article originally published Oct 4, 2019 and updated Mar 30, 2023.