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How is Technology Helping Boost Disabled Accessibility?

David Paul

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Be My Eyes

At Impact Summit last week, Be My Eyes founder Hans Jørgen Wiberg discussed how the app is helping blind and partially-sighted people around the world.

Impact Summit brought together business leaders from many industries to discuss how technology is delivering positive outcomes across business and society.

A range of talks explored pressing issues, such as how employers are using technology to support workers and sustainable mobility in Africa.

On the day, a strong focus was placed on how technology is being used to support society’s most disadvantaged people, including those living with various disabilities.

One app company, Be My Eyes, is doing just that.

Be My Eyes is a platform designed to aid the blind with day to day activities using app technology. A database of volunteers is created after downloading the app, and blind people who need support in daily tasks contact the volunteers to support them.

Hans Jørgen Wiberg, the Denmark-born founder of Be My Eyes, has been working with the Danish Blind Association for several years and was inspired to develop the platform based on his own experiences living partially-sighted.

Speaking to Hazel Jane at Impact Summit, he commented: “It is a simple idea; when a blind person needs a pair of eyes, they can tap one button and we will find a volunteer and make that video connection between those two persons.”

The technology could revolutionise how a sighted person interacts with a blind person, and how blind people interact with day-to-day activities. The app currently has 185 different languages available, so it has applications in countries all over the world.

Tasks that would be simple to a sighted individual are challenged for a blind person. The app can help with even the simplest of tasks, such as checking the temperature on an oven.

The team took the app to a startup weekend in 2012, beating seven other competitors to win the prize for the most innovative concept. The company have gone on to raise more than $300,000 (£246,120) to help continue developing the tech.

However, the idea took almost a year to go from concept through development into the release stage.

“In January 2015, we launched the app,” Wiberg said. “It was a long process to go from idea to product, and we were very lucky to involve a lot of my blind friends from Denmark as testers. Interesting, but it took a long time.”

The app is filling an important gap for people who find it difficult to carry out simple tasks. At the time of development, Wiberg says that there were not many apps available for blind people, and his team were unsure how to turn such an idea into a sustainable business.

The company managed to gain initial investment from one of the biggest foundations in Denmark, which helps to support new ideas. Today, the app has almost four million volunteers serving 200,000 blind and partially-sighted people around the world.

Wiberg continued. “When we launched, we said: ‘how can we get people to sign up to help blind people?’ and I was thinking that would just ask blind people to ask their brothers and sisters, and then we would make it happen that way.

“But then, when we launched, we had an incredible amount of press, and we had 10-15 thousand sign-ups per day in the beginning. We had spent all the money on developing so we didn’t have a marketing packet. We were totally overwhelmed, and it has been the same ever since.”

The idea of helping people seems to have been a big driver in why people have signed up, and word of mouth through social media has spread the word even faster. Wiberg said the company has still spent no money on marketing to this day.

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So where does The Be My Eyes app go from here?

“Our main focus right now is to get more companies on board, simply because we need to make sure we continue running, and we are, as everyone is in these times, a little nervous about companies’ willingness to be a part of this, but we are hopeful and we have multiple people working on that, so that is our main focus right now,” he said.

“One of the things that is also combined with this is that so many blind people are unemployed, so we want to make a special solution those people who are blind and don’t have a job – if we can support them in their job and make a version of Be My Eyes for that.”

Hans Jørgen Wiberg and his Be My Eyes app are a testament to how technology can be used to help in a variety of different areas and to have a positive impact on our society. The Tech for Good movement is already helping millions around the world, and apps such as these are just the beginning.

In a recent quote from Wiberg, he said: “It’s my hope that by helping each other as an online community, Be My Eyes will make a big difference in the everyday lives of blind people all over the world.”

David Paul

Staff Writer, DIGIT

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