There are a number of apps that support people who are blind or have low vision with everyday tasks. These apps can support users by verbally describing anything in their camera frame for them when they request assistance. In this article we focus on one of these apps, called Be My Eyes.

How Be My Eyes works

An illustration of a hand holding a mobile phone. In the background are 2 cans of food on a bench. The screen of the mobile shows the 2 cans. There is a text bubble indicating that the phone is giving a description of the cans.

Be My Eyes is a free app founded by Hans Jørgen Wilber. It is designed to support people who are blind or have low vision, by connecting them with a sighted volunteer via a live video call. The volunteer can assist them with everyday tasks, at any time and from anywhere in the world.

For example, a volunteer can tell you if the can of food that’s been sitting in the back of your cupboard for a few months has expired. Or they can read the label on the shampoo bottle, to make sure you buy the right one – coconut and lime, right?

Hans is visually impaired himself and has worked with the Danish Blind Association for many years. Importantly, the app puts people who are blind or have low vision first. Community input continues to be fundamental in the app’s development.

The app’s success

Within 24 hours of its launch, the app gained more than 10,000 users. Currently, the app has over 600,000 users. The app’s success is made possible by a global team of over 7 million volunteers.

The app has received many accolades since its launch. For example, in 2021, it received the Apple Design Award for Social Impact. More recently, the app received the 2023 Navigator award from American Printing House for the Blind.

The app in use

We spoke with one of our screen reader testers, Assunta, about the app. Assunta is blind. She explained that the app has a new feature that allows users to add their friends or family as their support network. This means that users can choose to reach out to their own personal support network, instead of a volunteer, if they would prefer. It also means that users can access their support networks in one place, rather than having to switch between different apps for support.

The introduction of AI

More recently, the app has added a ‘Be My AI’ feature. This feature allows users to take a photo and AI will describe it for them in detail including colours, objects, lighting and more. The user can then start a live chat with the AI to ask more specific questions.

We spoke with Larry Hudson, our former Team Leader of Innovation, Tech and Web, about this new feature. Larry is sighted. He shared that ‘Be My AI’ is an exciting feature from both a technological and an accessibility perspective, for the following reasons.

Feeling empowered

It can be empowering to be able to get a description of what is visually going on around you, without needing to reach out to someone. For some people, getting support through AI may be preferable to reaching out to a volunteer.

Accessing more detail

The new feature provides a ‘back and forth’ conversational interface. This allows users to ask for more detail. AI won’t run out of time or stamina.

The future of AI in apps

The new ‘Be My AI’ feature is a positive example of what the recent innovations in large language models (for example, GPT-4) can do for people in their day-to-day lives. While there are significant risks around the irresponsible use of AI, the ‘Be My AI’ feature is already making an impact for people who need visual assistance. It’s able to support them in ways that would have seemed impossible just a couple of years ago.