Veronica With Four Eyes

How I Use Be My Eyes With Low Vision

Be My Eyes is one of the most well-known free mobile applications for blind and low vision users, and it was one of the first visual interpreting applications I ever tried when I started practicing independent living skills for college. Be My Eyes connects blind and low vision users with on-demand volunteer visual interpreters or company representatives for visual assistance using a one-way video and two-way audio connection, similar to a video call. While it’s important that users learn how to use the Be My Eyes app, it’s even more important that they learn how to use it effectively and get the information that they need. Here is how I use Be My Eyes with low vision, and my favorite tips for using visual interpreting apps in an effective manner.

How Be My Eyes works

Be My Eyes requires users and volunteers to be at least 17 years old. When users first download the Be My Eyes app, they will need to provide an email address or social media account and their primary language, with an option to add a secondary language(s) in the app settings menu. Users will also need to grant Be My Eyes permission to access the camera, microphone, and notifications in order to make calls. Be My Eyes can be accessed 24/7 from anywhere in the world with a data/internet connection, and is always free to use.

When making a Be My Eyes call, the user is connected to the first available volunteer who can help them with a task- the average wait time for most popular languages is around 15 seconds. The user speaks their request and can adjust the view of the camera so that the volunteer can better view their surroundings, and at the end of the call the user rates the volunteer with a thumbs up/thumbs down. The majority of Be My Eyes calls that I have initiated for myself last five minutes or less, though I’ve known people who have completed longer tasks using the app as well- there is no time limit for calls that I am aware of.

Be My Eyes works with large print, screen magnification, and screen readers such as VoiceOver and TalkBack. It also has a self-voicing option that reads information out loud without a screen reader enabled.

Related links

When to use Be My Eyes

Be My Eyes is marketed as a way to borrow someone’s eyes to assist with completing various tasks. Some examples of tasks that my friends and I have used Be My Eyes for include (but are not limited to):

  • Reading product labels or labels in the dining hall
  • Organizing items in a drawer or locating items
  • Packing a suitcase
  • Picking out clothing
  • Reading menus in a restaurant or on a TV
  • Using a kiosk or vending machine
  • Reading signs for an office/classroom
  • Identifying items and providing visual details, i.e color

Related links

When not to use Be My Eyes

Even though Be My Eyes can be used for a lot of things, there are a few tasks and situations where users should avoid using Be My Eyes, and some where visual interpreting of any kind is prohibited. Examples of these tasks/situations include:

  • Reading sensitive information such as a credit card or identifying documents
  • Checking when it is safe to cross the street- there is a video delay
  • In a public restroom (this is illegal)
  • Checking prescription medication
  • Reading passwords
  • Any tasks that involve nudity/not wearing clothes
  • Taking proctored exams
  • Getting turn-by-turn directions

Users and volunteers can both report misuse or abuse of the service within the Be My Eyes app.

Related links

Using Specialized Help

Blind and low vision users can contact several different companies using the Specialized Help section of the app, including tech support, low vision/blindness support lines, and other businesses and companies that provide support for their products. Users are connected with professionals at each company who are well versed in assistive technology and how to support low vision/blind users. A complete list of Specialized Help partners is linked below and may vary by country- I recommend checking the app for the most up-to-date information

Related links

Before making a call, think about the task

Before I start a call with Be My Eyes, it helps to come up with a 1-2 sentence summary of what I need help with so that the volunteer can provide me with the information I need quickly. Some examples of what this might look like include:

  • “Can you help me find the ibuprofen in this drawer?”
  • “What does this dress look like? Is there a pattern on it?”
  • “I’m in the dining hall, what are the labels for these food items? Can you let me know if they have chocolate in them?”
  • “How much is the almond milk? Are there any other brands on sale?”
  • “How do you turn on the shower?”
  • “I’m trying to find room 1408. What does this sign say?”
  • “Can you read the instructions for this pattern?”

While there is no time limit for calls that I am aware of, many users I know prefer to break longer tasks down into smaller chunks and make separate calls- since there is such a short wait time for volunteers, this is easy to accomplish. For example, if I was making banana bread, I might use one volunteer to help me preheat the oven, another to help me measure ingredients, and another to help me test to see if the banana bread is done.

Related links

Check for personally identifiable information and reflections

Another thing to check for before placing a call is to ensure that personal identifiable information is not visible, such as credit cards, passports, ID badges, health insurance cards, or similar items that could lead to a user being identified or having their information stolen. I also recommend avoiding pointing the device camera at reflective surfaces such as mirrors or bathroom fixtures.

If I have to read information from a personal ID card, I prefer to use OCR recognition tools/apps that are built into my device, like Google Lens or the automatic OCR/text recognition in the iOS Photos app.

Related links

Should I tell the volunteer if I am blind/have low vision?

One question I received from a friend learning to use the Be My Eyes app is whether it was helpful to tell the volunteer if they were blind or if they have low vision. This is a matter of personal preference, but I will sometimes tell the volunteer that I have low vision/some usable vision if it pertains to the task- for example, I might tell someone that I don’t need to know what a dress looks like, just how much it costs. I do not provide additional details about my usable vision or the name of my diagnosis.

Related links

Provide feedback to the volunteer

General location terms like here, there, over there, etc are not helpful to me. If a volunteer uses these terms, I will ask them to be more specific- is an item to the left, right, or straight ahead? I will also ask them if they need me to adjust my camera to make something easier to read, or ask additional questions to make sure I know what I am looking at. This is part of building self-advocacy skills and letting people know how they can help me, instead of just accepting whatever help I can get.

Related links

Using additional tools with Be My Eyes

To help blind and low vision users access Be My Eyes and other visual interpreting apps more effectively, there are a few optional device accessories and additional tools that can help. These can include:

  • Device stands/scanning stands
  • Wrist straps or lanyards for holding the phone in one place
  • Headphones/hands free listening tools for hearing the volunteer more easily
  • Portable lighting, such as a clip-on book light or flashlight

Related links

More tips for using Be My Eyes

  • While visual interpreters should remain objective whenever possible, there are some situations where users may ask Be My Eyes volunteers for their opinion on something, such as if an outfit looks good or when choosing between brands at a grocery store
  • Both the Be My Eyes user and volunteer remain anonymous on calls, there is no way for a user/volunteer to know who the other person is unless they share the information on their own
  • I prefer to place Specialized Help calls on my tablet instead of my phone because it is easier to rest my tablet on a desk for long periods of time
  • Be My Eyes can be used 24/7, but volunteers will only receive calls between 8 am and 9 pm in their local time zone

How I use Be My Eyes with low vision. Here is how I use Be My Eyes with low vision, and my favorite tips for using visual interpreting apps in an effective manner.