I just downloaded an app I first wrote about some four years ago
BeMyEyes. It’s heartening to see start-up companies survive and thrive, especially those with an entirely humane and meaningful reason for being.
BeMyEyes connects visually impaired people with those who can see. A classic use of the ‘connect two parties across a platform’ concept that the internet has enabled.
In a nutshell, the app enables visually impaired people to use their audio adapted phones to connect with sighted volunteers via a live video call. So, for example, a blind person can use the app to connect to a sighted person, then ask that sighted person for visual help.
It might be “What does this label say?” or “Which of these tins of paint is the magnolia?’ There’s plenty of example stories on the app, and I’m rather looking forward to my first contact.
Multiple people are called at once, and the first to pick up gets to respond, so I’ll be watching and waiting rather eagerly. The app was founded by a Danish chap, Hans Jorgen, a furniture craftsman. He first presented the idea at Startup Weekend in Denmark, in 2012, and in January 2015 it became a reality. It was an almost immediate success, 10,000 users in the first 24 hours, and has won many awards as you’d expect, and still continues to do so.
There’s now more than two million sighted volunteers on the app, and over 100,000 visually impaired people using it. It covers over 180 languages and is one of the largest micro volunteering communities in the world. Founded by a furniture craftsman, himself visually impaired.
Which reminds me, I connected with a chap called Chris Fisher last month. He’s a blind wood turner, lives in Lancashire, creates amazing work, so I decided to give him a call and see if he’s heard of BeMyEyes. He tells me he has, and uses it once a week or so; he tells me someone in South Africa helped him find a tin of soup and someone in New York read him the cooking instructions on a pie.
Chris also tells me he very recently passed his assessment to become the first and only ever blind accredited Master Wood Turner. He’s now Chris Fisher, RPT, Registered Professional Turner. Accredited by the Register of Professional Turners, supported by the Worshipful Company of Turners, formed in the 12th century. He’s the only blind one. Ever in history.
The juxtaposition, an ancient craft, and Mastercraftsman, and modern technology, how things change, and how we can, and do, care and support one another, and it gives me hope.
In the future, well, who knows. Perhaps some wearable tech will enable blind people to see, digitised images bypassing the eyes altogether. And perhaps Chris will wear video glasses to live stream the work he does, from his perspective. That would be exciting.
Bird Lovegod is an independent fintech consultant