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Specialized Help from Be My Eyes – harnessing technology to connect companies directly with their blind and visually impaired users

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - BEMYEYES (Specialized Help from Be My Eyes – harnessing technology to connect companies directly with their blind and visually impaired users)

Okres sprawozdawczy: 2020-04-01 do 2020-11-30

Be My Eyes is a free application available on iOS and Android devices working to bring independence to the estimated 2.2 Billion visually impaired individuals around the world. Many of these individuals encounter cultural stigma along with a statistically high unemployment rate. Be My Eyes works against this stigma by providing a community based on support and sharing by connecting people with a visual impairment with sighted support via live video calls. Whenever an individual with a visual impairment needs assistance, they can open the app and connect with either a volunteer that speaks the same language or a company representative from a customer service help desk. Both possibilities provide those in need with the necessary assistance to bring ease to any troubles faced in their everyday lives.
With large aging populations around the world, visual impairments are only set to rise in the future. Providing an accessible support solution for visually impaired individuals promotes a culture of inclusion in our society that will hopefully accommodate all disability needs. Our app does so firstly by providing support from anonymous volunteers, and second by connecting visually impaired people with customer service representatives. Currently, many of our users in the EU can connect with customer service representatives in Microsoft, Google, ClearBlue, P&G, and many more. We are quickly scaling to provide support from other companies as well as from blindness education organizations to increase our range of support available to people with a visually impaired around the world. Our overall objective is to improve the accessible opportunities provided to visually impaired individuals by creating more Specialized Help connections for them. By doing so, companies with the help of our application can provide products with accessibility in mind, making a more inclusive future for those individuals with disabilities.
Since founding the project in 2015, Be My Eyes has grown into a community offering visual support to over 230,000 individuals with a visual impairment from over 4 million volunteers around the world. As a company, we have worked to grow our community with continued outreach and cooperation. The app is available for download in over 150 countries in over 180 languages and is still expanding to provide service for more. In 2018, we launched our first Specialized Help option with Microsoft. This proved to be a major milestone in the operation of our organization, as it provided a unique customer service opportunity for businesses to take part in. Since then, we have partnered with Google, P&G, ClearBlue, and many others along with blindness education organizations.
During the first period of the project, we developed the customer support agent interface to include the necessary functionality and integration to connect users directly to company customer support agents. This includes data analysis, statistics, user management, and many more achievements. The result obtained is a fully featured web application which greatly improves organizations’ ability to provide high quality visual assistance to our blind and visually impaired users through Be My Eyes.
In the second period, we have developed a fully functional prototype for an accessible desktop application, which enables high-quality one-way screen sharing video calls with two-way audio communication. Further, we have developed a proof of concept for identifying credit cards (to prevent the sharing of sensitive information) by using ML/AI.
Several activities related to exploitation, commercialization and communication have been carried out during the whole project, such as IP investigation, improvement of commercialization plan, communication via email campaigns, creation of specific promotional material and attendance at several conferences.
The project has been raising awareness on disability and accessibility rights since its founding. As a movement, we wish to change the stigma of 'pity' towards individuals in the disability community by providing an outlet for open communication and understanding through support. This awareness has been raised most notably in companies across separate sectors. Companies are beginning to understand the inaccessible nature of many of their products and are taking the effort to provide more accessible solutions to their customers. An example of this can be seen in our business partnership with Microsoft, which has benefitted gratefully in terms of use case insights after signing on as a Specialized help provider.
Progress has also been evident in our offerings of Specialized Help of live event experiences. Most live events, particularly music events, are audiovisual, leaving out individuals with visual or auditory disabilities. Be My Eyes experimented with changing this by providing live audio description and support of Global Citizen's One World: Together at Home. During the event, visually impaired users could call specialized volunteers to receive live personalized audio descriptions of the music event to receive visual details. This has worked not only towards making the event experience better for those who cannot enjoy them visually, but also to connect those individuals who were able to share a human connection in those moments shared. Potential impacts range far and wide by creating a more positive and inclusive society for those living with a disability. Our project encourages those living with visual impairments to live more independent lives where anything is achievable.

The lack of connectivity between many individuals throughout the past year was noted and resulted in bi-monthly webinars held with blind and low vision users worldwide. This served as a valuable time to share insights, stories, and updates with the community while creating a direct channel with our userbase making their opinions heard during a time of social distancing and isolation for many.
Additionally, we have notably faced toward lessening the gap in employment for individuals with vision impairments (as users can connect with their coworkers via a secure visual link) along with enabling job seekers with vision impairments to better reach out to prospective companies.