The advent of mobile video calls has improved the help available to people living with visual impairments. Vision-impaired people can phone a sighted person, whom they ask to describe what can be seen through the phone camera. However, people with visual impairments end up regularly calling the same set of family or friends. This, they say, makes them feel like a burden. In 2012, Danish company Be My Eyes introduced a prototype video assistance system for vision-impaired people. It allows them to enlist the help of volunteers for visual assistance. By 2016, the system had matured, and Be My Eyes had been established in over 100 countries. Today, the system connects vision-impaired people in need of help with sighted people willing to volunteer for a few minutes.
Seeking corporate involvement
Many large companies do not specifically cater to people with vision impairments. The Be My Eyes system was not previously supported at the corporate level. The EU-funded BEMYEYES project assisted the company of the same name to investigate the possibility of including large corporations. The standard Be My Eyes system has, for several years, run as a mobile phone or tablet application. Users sign up as either a vision-impaired person or a volunteer. As of March 2021, the community included more than 290 000 vision-impaired people and 4.6 million volunteers in over 150 countries. “The connection is made based on language and time zone,” explains project coordinator Christian Erfurt. “So if you’re in need of assistance in the middle of the night in Australia, for example, we’ll match you to an English-speaking, or whatever language you like, volunteer somewhere else in the world in a suitable time zone.” The connection is established within 15 seconds. Then the vision-impaired person asks for help with their problem, without having to bother family or friends at inconvenient times.
Corporate sector says yes
One of the goals of the project’s feasibility study was to find ways to incorporate corporate helplines into the Be My Eyes system. In these cases, companies enlist dedicated staff who provide visual assistance specifically concerning the corporate matters vision-impaired people may need help with. “The vision-impaired person uses the Be My Eyes system to connect directly to a customer support centre,” adds Erfurt. “One of the company’s trained agents, knowledgeable about the company’s products or services, enters the private and secure call. With confidentiality agreements already in place, this allows personal data to be discussed openly.” The answer to the project’s research question of whether companies wished to participate was a resounding yes. The system does not charge people with visual impairments, or volunteers, but does charge participating companies. Nevertheless, researchers demonstrated to companies the financial benefits of working with BEMYEYES to improve services to the vision-impaired community, who represent a large and hitherto neglected market. So far, Be My Eyes has signed up many of the world’s largest corporations, including Microsoft and Google. Project team members will continue expanding the corporate branch of the Be My Eyes system. This provides another layer of support for people living with vision impairments.
BEMYEYES, vision-impaired, corporate helpline, video, volunteering, visual assistance, customer support