By Emily McPherson
Apps for phones are typically fun and games, but many are beginning to make a big difference in people’s lives. The new “Be My Eyes” app connects blind people with volunteer sighted helpers from all around the world via live video chat. Blind individuals take pride in completing tasks on their own, but there are many instances where just one set of eyes could help tremendously. Having the ability to check the expiration date on a milk carton is something we take for granted. Instead of asking the neighbor to tell them the date labeled on a carton and having to award them a cappuccino, blind individuals can easily ask for assistance from willing volunteers through the new “Be My Eyes” app. And spare their coffee beans.
Today’s iPhone has an awesome feature called Voice Over, which enables people who cannot see to use an iPhone synthetic speech and touch-based interface. Three clicks of the home button and a voice will describe everything happening on the screen. When the blind individual’s finger is on or near the “Be My Eyes” app, the Voice Over will tell them. Once in the app, the blind person requests assistance and a volunteer helper will receive a notification that a live video chat will soon be established. A blind friend of mine downloaded the app to see how helpful it really was. “It’s pretty cool and neat. Kind of like FaceTiming,” Kortney Kemezis says after accidentally misplacing her green beans. “I usually use another app called ‘tap tap see’ where you take pictures of the object and a computer tells you what it is,” she says. But when asked if she thought this app could really take off, she seems to favor the computerized app she has been accustomed to for so long. She replies, “The ‘tap tap see’ app is more convenient, but it is terrific to see creative ideas like these come to life and see that people truly care to help.”
Here at MSU, we currently have 58 students and 15 staff members who are visually impaired or blind. The Resource Center for Person with Disabilities provides accommodations such as braille testing, braille textbooks, extended testing, preferred seating, and personal readers. The RCPD even has its own tech team who work on coming up with innovative ideas, just like this new app, to improve the lives of our disabled students. It is truly phenomenal that MSU goes above and beyond and performs these services for our students and staff. Time will tell if the “Be My Eyes” app will become popular throughout the blind community here at MSU and throughout the world.