Fred’s Head from APH, a Blindness Blog

Fred’s Head, offered by the American Printing House for the Blind, contains tips, techniques, tutorials, in-depth articles, and resources for and by blind or visually impaired people. Our blog is named after the legendary Fred Gissoni, renowned for answering a seemingly infinite variety of questions on every aspect of blindness.

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Friday, July 15, 2016

BeSpecular and Be My Eyes: Apps that Assist the Blind in Identifying Objects with the Assistance of Sighted Helpers

While several apps exist that assist persons who are blind and visually impaired with identifying objects, most of them do not involve direct interaction between the person who is blind and a sighted helper. Two differing apps, however, do use interaction between individuals as the basis for their determining objects, colors, and other related information for a person who is blind. BeSpecular is an app that launched in July of 2016 while Be My Eyes has existed for a couple of years.BeSpecular describes its operation as follows:The BeSpecular app equips VIPs (the term the app developers use to refer to persons who are blind or visually impaired) with a tool that enables them to lead more independent lives. Both our groups (visually impaired persons, VIPs and sightlings, which is the term the app developers use for people with sight) will have the BeSpecular app. A VIP is able to take a photo of something that they need more detail about (e.g. what colour is this shirt). The VIP adds a voice message to the photo and sends it to the BeSpecular Sightlings. A Sightling who’s active on their account will receive a push notification (e.g. John wants to see through your eyes). Sightlings can choose to proceed and answer the VIPs question via a text or voice message, or if a Sightling is busy they can let the question expire and rest assured that another Sightling will pick up the VIPs question.While several apps exist that assist persons who are blind or visually impaired with identifying objects, most of them do not involve direct interaction between the person who is blind and a sighted helper. Two recently developed apps do, however, use interaction between individuals as the basis for determining objects or distinguishing colors or other pertinent information for a person who is blind. BeSpecular is an app that launched in July of 2016 while Be My Eyes has existed for a couple of years.
BeSpecular describes its operation as follows:
The BeSpecular app equips VIPs, (the term the app developers use to refer to persons who are blind and visually impaired), with a tool that enables them to live more independent lives. Both our groups, (visually impaired persons, VIPs), and sightlings, (which is the term the developers use for people with sight), will have the BeSpecular app. A VIP is able to take a photo of something they need more detail about (e.g. what color is this shirt). The VIP adds a voice message to the photo and sends it to the BeSpecular sightlings. A sightling who's active on their account will receive a push notification (e.g. John wants to see through your eyes). Sightlings can choose to proceed and answer the VIPs question via a text or voice message, or if a sightling is busy they can let the question expire and rest assured that another sightling will pick up the VIPs question.
Here is how Be My Eyes describes its service:

A blind person requests assistance in the Be My Eyes app. The challenge that he/she needs help with can be anything from knowing the expiration date on the milk to navigating new surroundings.

The volunteer helper receives a notification for help and a live video connection is established. From the live video the volunteer can help the blind person by answering the question they need answered.

Even though both apps seek to assist persons who are blind and visually impaired, the apps differ in several important ways. BeSpecular requires the person requesting assistance to take a photo of the item that needs a description and then to record a voice message. The volunteer with sight responds via voice or text message; if the picture is blurry or out of focus, you may need to retake it in order to receive acceptable results.

Be My Eyes works through video chat; as long as it can make a good connection, the person who is blind can connect to the person who is sighted, and the person who is sighted can direct the person who is blind regarding the placement of an item, the need to move the phone’s camera, etc..

Since each person who is blind is different and has varying abilities in terms of taking pictures and operating their phone, it may be best to try both apps and determine which one works best for you individually. BeSpecular is available for iOS and Android while Be My Eyes currently only has an iOS app available. Both apps have Twitter and Facebook pages, a frequently asked questions page, informational websites, and both are free of charge. You can download the apps from these sites or from your app store of choice simply by searching for BeSpecular or Be My Eyes. To read more information, navigate to www.bespecular.com and www.bemyeyes.org.

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