Be my eyes: an app that sees for two

Impact Journalism Day: Sighted volunteers can help the visually impaired via phone

Hans Jørgen Wiberg, inventor of Be My Eyes. Be My Eyes that connects blind people with volunteer helpers from around the world via live video chat Photograph: Thelle Kristensen

A Danish nonprofit startup has combined the humble video call with an army of volunteers who can see clearly. The result is an app that enables visually impaired people to “see” through a phone’s video camera.

Be My Eyes was designed by Hans Jørgen Wiberg. Blind users who need help access the app using the iPhone’s VoiceOver controls; then Be My Eyes calls the first available volunteer.

User and volunteer are connected through the video camera on the visually impaired user’s phone; the sighted user lends eyes for daily tasks, such as checking the expiry date on food. Tasks usually take just a minute or two. It’s a process Wiberg refers to as microvolunteering. “A lot of people want to do something good, but they are busy,” he says. “With this app they have an opportunity to help out if they have time.”

Wiberg, a visually impaired craftsman, presented his idea at a Danish startup conference in 2012. Less than three years later Be My Eyes was officially launched this January.


Thousands of users have signed up, and it now has about 200,000 sighted volunteers, 18,000 blind users and connections in 80 languages. Teething problems include long waiting times despite the fact that sighted volunteers outnumber visually impaired users.

Wiberg hopes to expand into the developing world. The World Health Organisation estimates that 90 percent of the world’s 285 million visually impaired people live in low-income areas.

But blind people aren’t the only beneficiaries. After helping a blind man read a card he received in the mail, one volunteer from Hawaii posted on Facebook: “This is the first app that has ever affected me on such an emotional level, and the idea that my tiny contribution made a difference in some complete stranger’s life leaves me with a huge sense of satisfaction . . . I feel like I’m getting more out of this app than the person who called me.”

Published as part of Impact Journalism Day, June 20th, 2015