Several of my friends have signed up as volunteers for Be My Eyes and have been sad that they haven’t been able to take any calls because they were busy or couldn’t get to a call in time. They asked me if I knew of any apps similar to Be My Eyes that would allow them to volunteer to help people who are blind or that have low vision, and I was excited to tell them about BeSpecular and how I had been using it to get image descriptions. Here are my tips for BeSpecular volunteers from 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 having to give an instant response, Sightlings can respond to requests whenever they are able.
- Questions and answers can be typed out if the user prefers to read messages
Signing up to be a volunteer
After downloading BeSpecular, users can sign up to be a volunteer by providing the following information:
- First and last name
- Age range
- Active email address (must be confirmed after sign up)
- A short bio
How it works
A VIP takes a picture and then either types or records themselves asking a question or requesting a description of an image. When a request is sent, Sightlings receive a notification to describe an image, with the option to type or record their responses for the VIP to read or play back. Sightlings can also rate the politeness of the VIP, and the VIP can rate the Sightling’s response.
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What to describe
While most VIPs will send requests for specific information such as color, item locations, or reading short text, some VIPs may send requests for an image description. Helpful information to include in descriptions when relevant include:
- Placement of objects in image
- Image style (if not a photo)
- Number of people or objects
- Clothes (if they are an important detail)
- Placement of text
- Emotions, such as smiling
- Surroundings/background area
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What not to describe
Some examples of information not to include include:
- Descriptions of colors- no need to describe what red looks like
- Obvious details such as someone having two eyes, a nose, and a mouth
- Details that are not the focus of the picture
- Overly poetic or detailed description- I don’t need a paragraph about what a deer looks like
- Emoji in responses
- Multiple punctuation marks
Tips for sending responses
Some of my top pieces of advice for Sightlings looking to improve their descriptions include:
- Making sure there is no background audio when using the audio response feature, as this can be distracting
- Speak clearly and with a normal tone of voice- no need to shout at the microphone
- Write text responses in complete sentences, i.e “there are four water bottles on the table”
- Don’t take screenshots of requests or otherwise save images
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As a VIP, I am grateful for the Sightling volunteers that help to describe images for me and allow me to hear about details I might have otherwise missed on with my low vision. BeSpecular provides people with an awesome opportunity to volunteer and help people with visual impairments, and I hope that more people will sign up to use the app.