Checking the expiration date on a carton of milk. Reading the label on a can in the kitchen cupboard. Such mundane tasks pose challenges for the estimated 39 million people around the world who are blind — and the millions more with visual impairments.
A new app created by Danish craftsman Hans Jørgen Wiberg seeks to make life easier for the blind by connecting them with sighted volunteers. Be My Eyes allows anyone with a visual impairment to ask a sighted volunteer for help with something that requires normal vision.
“As a blind person, you are 100 percent sure that the person who answers the call is willing to help you,” said Wiberg, who has tunnel vision and expects to eventually go blind. “As a helper, if you don’t have the time, you don’t answer.”
Wiberg, who serves as the regional chairman of a Dutch organization for the blind, said many of his blind friends use Apple’s FaceTime video conferencing application to ask sighted friends for help when they’re alone in their homes, and need a second set of eyes. But that can feel like an imposition, he said.
Be My Eyes seeks to build upon the success of live video-conferencing technology by recruiting a network of volunteers who were willing to lend a hand. In April 2012, Wiberg the pitched his idea at a Startup Weekend technology competition in Aarhus, Denmark — and won the prize for the most innovative concept.
Wiberg met his technical collaborator and co-founder, Thelle Kristensen, at the event. They’ve been working together for more than two years, refining the app.
Be My Eyes takes advantage of the iPhone’s voice, video and wireless networking capabilities, and such built-in accessibility features as VoiceOver, a screen reader that uses synthetic speech to tell the visually impaired user what apps are under their fingertips.
After downloading the free app, volunteers and the visually impaired complete a registration process that includes authorizing their phone’s microphone and rear-facing camera to be used by the app.
To request help, the user opens the app and touches a button to ask for a volunteer. Volunteers receive a notification, which they can either accept or ignore. Calls will only be taken from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m., so as not to disturb helpers in the middle of the night, said Wiberg.
Since launching this week in Apple’s App store, the app has already attracted 29,287 volunteers and 2,600 blind and visually impaired users. It’s available worldwide, in 10 languages live in the AppStore and has been translated to 31 languages (10 of them crowdsourced). An Android version of the app is not yet available.
“We are quite over whelmed by the success here,” Wiberg said.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.