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'Be My Eyes' app let's vision-impaired people crowdsource sight

For people who have difficulty seeing, everyday activities like checking the expiration date on a milk carton or choosing the right can of food from the pantry can become a major task. A new app aims to change that by pairing seeing-impaired people with helpers who may be miles away.

“Normally, I would try to see if a neighbor was home. If no one was home, I would start making phone calls to people who had computers or iPhones hoping someone would pick up,” said Ashley Summers, who suffers from retinal degeneration. Now Summers uses Be My Eyes, an app designed to help people who have trouble seeing.  

Be My Eyes seeks to make life easier for the blind by connecting them with sighted volunteers in a way that’s quick and easy. The app launched on Jan. 15 in Apple’s App Store. As of Jan. 26, close to 100,000 volunteers have helped 7,735 visually impaired people 19,660 times, according to the company website. The app connects people in 80 different languages.

The non-profit, crowdsourced app allows any person with a visual impairment to request the help of a sighted volunteer through a direct video call. To request help, the user opens the app and touches a button to find a helping pair of eyes.

From his couch in New York, 24-year-old Sam Marcus recently talked Summers through the instructions on a box of muffin mix over video chat. Summers, who’s only able to make out shapes and shadows, told NBC News that the app was “ingenious,” and said she now feels like she “always has someone that can help.”

“Now you can ask for help, without really asking.The person is 100% there to help you,” said Be My Eyes founder Hans Jorgen Wilberg. The 50-year-old Danish furniture craftsman created the app after a blind friend told him he used his iPhone’s Facetime function for to get visual assistance. Wilberg wanted to create a way for blind people to ask for help without having to rely on their friends or family.





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“I really hope that blind people will do something that otherwise they wouldn’t dare to do or be afraid to do,” Wilberg told NBC News. “Even just cooking some food for their loved ones.” The non-profit is now focused on reaching out to more blind people and giving them an opportunity to try the app.