Recently, I received a question from a reader about alternatives to Be My Eyes for people who may not be able to use that app for various reasons. I was excited to discover the BeSpecular app and started working on my BeSpecular app review for visually impaired users who are looking for a similar app to Be My Eyes or Aira. Here are my tips for using BeSpecular as a user with low vision.
What is BeSpecular?
BeSpecular is a free app that allows users with visual impairments (who are referred to as VIPs) to take pictures or upload them from their phone gallery and have them described by sighted volunteers (who are referred to as Sightlings) within minutes. VIPs can choose to type questions or record themselves asking the questions, and Sightlings will send back recorded or typed responses to their questions. BeSpecular is available on iOS and Android, with language support for English and Italian.
Why is it different from Be My Eyes?
BeSpecular is different from Be My Eyes or other traditional visual assistance apps in a few different ways. Some of the main ways include:
- There is no minimum age to use BeSpecular, while Be My Eyes and most other visual assistance apps require the user to be 18 or older.
- Instead of streaming video to a Sightling, users only share still pictures. This can also help with saving data and phone battery since the camera isn’t on for a long period of time.
- Instead of an instant response, it may take up to 20 minutes to receive a description, though I received my description within 5 minutes.
- Questions and answers can be typed out if the user prefers to read messages
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Once the BeSpecular app is opened and the VIP registers for an account, they are taken to a screen that shows a live view of the rear facing camera. VIPs have the option to take a picture or upload a photo from their gallery to receive a description, and then can ask their question by recording themselves talking or sending a message. None of the menus within the app have more than three options, and they are easy to navigate. When a reply is received, the VIP receives a notification and can open their reply within the app and choose whether they want to receive more replies to this question.
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Once the photo is selected, VIPs can choose to double tap and hold to record them asking a question, type out their question, or take an additional photo to attach to the request.
Examples of potential questions to ask include:
- What does this text say?
- What color is this item?
- Can you tell me where this item is?
- What does that sign say?
- Is there anything on the floor?
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Waiting for a response
When testing this app, I sent a picture of two dogs that my mom had sent me and typed “what kind of dogs are these?”, since I was in a waiting room and couldn’t talk. After about ten minutes, I received a notification saying that a volunteer named Meagan who answered my question. She answered with an audio recording saying they were pugs, which I was able to listen to through my phone speaker. After another few minutes, a different volunteer sent a typed response saying they were pugs and gave more descriptive information such as their fur color, color of their collars, and how one of them was smiling at the camera. I was able to rate the descriptions from 1 to 5 stars and was happy with how they came out.
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Since BeSpecular is designed to be used by people with blindness and low vision, it is compatible with accessibility settings such as VoiceOver, TalkBack, Select-to-speak, and large print. Users are not required to have a screen reader enabled to use the app, though the app does not provide any sound feedback except for the audio recordings from volunteers.
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Volunteering with BeSpecular
As mentioned before, people who do not have impaired vision can volunteer with BeSpecular and describe images for people with visual impairments. I had a friend test this feature out, and they said that they received a couple of different requests a day to describe specific details in images such as color and object locations. Volunteering with BeSpecular would be great for people who want to learn more about writing alt text or audio description, and they can do it without having to answer their phone or go to a quiet place.
BeSpecular is a great addition to the collection of virtual visual assistance apps, and I predict I will get a lot of use out of it as I can get image descriptions of items saved to my iPad gallery. For users looking for a Be My Eyes alternative or visual assistance app for children, BeSpecular is a great choice for all ages and technology abilities.