New technology could help the visually impaired - Cleveland 19 News Cleveland, OH

New technology could help the visually impaired

"Be My Eyes" app helps the visually impaired (Source: WOIO) "Be My Eyes" app helps the visually impaired (Source: WOIO)
An estimated 285 million people around the world are blind or visually impaired, according to the World Health Organization.

For some, everyday tasks can be difficult. But a new tech idea is bringing help right into the palm of their hands.

45-year-old Julian Vargas can find his way just about anywhere. He has been blind most of his life and enjoys being independent. But, he says there are moments when he and others who are visually impaired just need help.

"When we are trying to get some information or detail that's only available visually, we'll joke around and say does anyone have a pair of eyes I can borrow right now?" says Vargas.

There is a new, free app for smart phones called "Be My Eyes" that could solve that problem.

The app asks, "How can I help you today?"

Vargas replies, "I'm not as familiar with the aisles here, so I was thinking you could maybe be my eyes?"

The app uses a phone's camera and microphone to get the blind instantly connected to sighted volunteers like Elvira Medina.

Since the app launched in January, Medina has helped blind users locate medicine, figure out expiration dates, even shop for their favorite orange juice.

"This app is actually something that is helping people and in such a small scale, but means so much," says Medina.

More than 115,000 volunteers have signed up to help the roughly 10,000 blind individuals who have enrolled so far.

"They're giving us something that we need the most at that given second, which is a pair of eyes," says Vargas.

The service is available in 80 languages.

If a sighted volunteer happens to be busy when they get a call from the app, they can simply hit a button on their phone so that the app automatically contacts another volunteer.

The idea for "Be My Eyes" came from a 50-year-old furniture maker in Denmark who is losing his vision.

Copyright 2015 WOIO. All rights reserved.

Powered by Frankly