LightHouse has a lot to celebrate this Thursday, October 15 which is White Cane Day. This is a day to recognize the presence, equality and achievements of people who are blind or have low vision. In 1964, a joint resolution by the United States Congress was signed into law. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the first White Cane Day proclamation a few hours later.
October 15 also happens to be the birth date of James Holman. Holman is the namesake of LightHouse’s Holman Prize for Blind Ambition, an award given annually to three blind people with ambitious ideas. James Holman was a 19thcentury British explorer who was known as “The Blind Traveler.” Holman was the most prolific private traveler of anyone, blind or sighted, before the era of modern transportation. To learn more about his incredible story, you can read “A Sense of the World” by author Jason Roberts.
Finally, end your celebration of White Cane Day with LightHouse’s 30% & Growing Virtual Meetup, a relaxed setting to talk all things blind employment on Thursday from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. This month’s guest is Domonique Lawless, who teaches cane travel at the Virginia Rehabilitation Center for the Blind and Vision Impaired and hosts a podcast on the world of blind employment. Contact Serena Olsen at SOlsen@lighthouse-sf.org and let her know you’ll be there.
If you’re not yet familiar with the Be My Eyes app, check it out on the App store or Google Play. The idea is brilliant in its simplicity. A blind or visually impaired person needs help finding out what’s in a can, or how to use the washing machine in an unfamiliar hotel laundry for example. Simply open the Be My Eyes app, tap or double tap to call using video, and more than two million plus volunteers around the world are a resource open to you. They have signed up to take video calls to help blind and visually impaired people with visual information. Be My Eyes is a free app and free service for all.
Recently, specialized help has also been available through the app. So if your difficulty is with your Microsoft product, you can choose to contact their technical support from a list within the app. And soon, LightHouse will also be listed as an option to call on for specialized help.
Choose LightHouse from the list and you will be video calling directly to one of our helpful staff. Have a question you’d like to ask about our programs? Be My Eyes us. Want some more info about one of our events? Be My Eyes us. We’re eager to talk to you, and soon there will be one more way to reach us. Look for our official launch in mid-May!
Today, Hans Jørgen Wiberg, the founder of Danish startup and longtime LightHouse partner Be My Eyes, sent a proud message to the network’s nearly 50,000 blind users. Starting today, the startup will sign on brands to a new area of the app called “Specialized Help.”
Beginning with Microsoft, who will route all their Specialized Be My Eyes calls to their dedicated Disability Answer Desk, Be My Eyes is making its foray into high-end customer service. But rather than pass the cost on to its blind users – one of the largest user bases of blind people worldwide – the enhanced customer service will be provided by brand partnerships, ad-free and with no strings attached for users.
“We love to see Be My Eyes trying new things,” LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin said Wednesday, “and we love that, almost five years since we met them, they are continuing to grow in ambition and scope. It’s imperative that blind users have the best customer service possible, and Be My Eyes has just given blind people worldwide a powerful new tool.”
We are thrilled to announce the newest feature in the BeMyEyes app: Specialized Help – a better way to connect with businesses and organizations when you need assistance with their products or services.
To all our Be My Eyes users,
As you know, BeMyEyes is here to help you tackle a wide range of visual challenges as you go about your day. Until today, BeMyEyes has randomly connected you to a volunteer to solve daily tasks. Some tasks, however, require specialized assistance.
Contacting customer support through email or by phone isn’t always ideal. Direct communication with a business’s customer support agent could be a more vision-friendly alternative and less time consuming for you. If someone from the company could see the issue in real time, issues with their products or services could be resolved more efficiently.
So we’ve strategized a way to better assist you: enlisting the help of representatives from companies whose products you use all the time. It’s our sincere pleasure to introduce Specialized Help. This new feature means that a trained company representative is available to answer questions or help you tackle issues with speed and in-depth solutions. Maybe you need help figuring out how to use an unfamiliar product, or you might want to interact on a company’s app or website while on the phone with their representative. With Specialized Help, it’s easy to get in touch with businesses and organizations when you encounter a challenge with their products or services. And as always, it’s completely free.
The next time you update your BeMyEyes app, there will be a second button added to the main screen to take you to the Specialized Help Menu. Clicking “Specialized Help” will lead you to the list of companies with representatives available to answer your call and assist you through a live video connection. Each business profile will include descriptions of their services, hours of operation, and supported languages.
Microsoft is first to join
Microsoft is the first company joining our platform to offer Specialized Help and maintains their mission to empower every person on the planet to achieve more. Included in that mission is a program aimed at offering free technical support to the disability community – Microsoft Disability Answer Desk.
“BeMyEyes provides a new and innovative way for our customers to get technical support,” said Neil Barnett, Director Disability Answer Desk, Microsoft. “With a simple tap, customers can access the Disability Answer Desk from their phone to get the help they need with Microsoft products and services.”
BeMyEyes is on a journey with Microsoft to help more people utilize technology as a means of empowerment to achieve more in their daily lives. Starting today, Microsoft agents will be available through BeMyEyes Specialized Help to users in Australia, Canada, UK, Hong Kong, Ireland, India, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, South Africa and the United States offering assistance in English. If you need help with Windows or Office products just give them a call.
Who Would You Like Us to Bring Onboard Specialized Help?
At the present moment, you have the option to contact Microsoft. Improving the customer service experience takes time, rest assured, but more companies from a variety of fields will join the Specialized Help platform soon. Your feedback is of tremendous value to us. If there are businesses and organizations that you may seek assistance from and would like them to a part of the Specialized Help platform, please let us know, and we will do our best to include them. You can simply respond to this email or write us at firstname.lastname@example.org. It is our hope that Specialized Help will provide a better way to connect you with businesses and organizations.
On May 11 from 5:00 t0 7:00 p.m., LightHouse will host Be My Eyes and its blind or low vision users for an evening of creative use, feedback and even a bit of friendly competition. The Be My Eyes team will take blind users through the past, present and future of the technology, and share some incredible stories about the iPhone app that connects blind people to a network of sighted volunteers via live video chat. The event is free and intended for blind and low vision users – RSVP on Facebook.
We love our independence. Even if our vegetables are grown and picked by hundreds of hands, our cars designed by teams of closely collaborating engineers, and everything from our electricity to our government benefits kept running by vast networks of individuals — modern day technology and consumption are designed to make us feel self sufficient.
We are thus allowed to hold ourselves ideals of self-determination and rugged individualism that have been passed down over the centuries. As blind people, these values are challenged every day of our lives. When something is poorly designed or downright unusable, we confront a deep conundrum: going it alone or asking for help, and risking the perceived possibility of burdening others.
When Be My Eyes launched nearly two years ago, a new tool was born: a radically different way to ask for help. Be My Eyes introduced blind smartphone users to a whole new type of social support network, one unbounded by geography, bureaucracy, or even practical limitations, that allowed blind users to get sighted assistance via video chat.
Today there are about half a million sighted volunteers with Be My Eyes loaded onto their phones, with more than 30,000 blind users on the other end. These volunteers will do anything from help you adjust the thermostat to spending half an hour helping you pick out an outfit for a high-stakes presentation. But at it’s core, each interaction is random, at-will and obligation free. The free app puts no limit on the number of calls you can make in a day. If you really wanted to, you could call 100 different people and have each of them identify the exact same piece of art – and the service, as always, would be free.
Even though thousands of blind people benefit from this app every week, the platform can handle thousands more. I wonder often if our notion of independent living so engrained, so hard-wired that we have still have trouble asking for help, even when there are really no strings attached.
Be My Eyes is working toward a gold-standard for people helping people. They have hundreds of thousands of hours of free labor, given with good faith, at a moments notice from people all around the world. It’s truly a new tool – like a fishing pole that reels in assistance whenever you want it. But as the old saying goes, you have to “teach a man to fish” before he can really benefit from the tools at hand.
Last month, I challenged myself to re-consider how I use the app. Occasionally I will be somewhere, alone, and realize that I am struggling. We all do this, sighted and blind alike: make things harder for ourselves then they need to be.
For one week, I told myself, any time I needed help I would pull out the app and give it a spin. What came out of it was surprising. Watch the video below to see Be My Eyes in action.
Not only did I use it for things I never thought it could work for – like identifying house numbers as I walked through a neighborhood or even the types of fish on my sushi plate – but I met people who were patient, not overbearing, and curious as to what they could do to be helpful without being obtrusive.
No one asked me personal questions, no one tried to coach me on how to live my life, and above all no one grabbed me by the arm and steered me somewhere I didn’t want to go. When I got what I needed, I could politely say thank you and hang up without fear that being brisk with someone would have repercussions later. It’s all the value of having someone nearby without any of the additional worry of initiating contact, explaining yourself, and ultimately breaking free of their of custody.
Our understanding of “independence” is not truly about total independence, but instead about masking the assembly line of helpers which make up our lives: the tiny little micro-transactions where individuals step in to provide assistance, whether or not we have a disability. For blind people, this is a more obvious reality than for most.
The reason Be My Eyes is so remarkable is because it embraces this reality wholesale: You can get the tiniest bit of help and move on through your life. The safety net is huge, and yet doesn’t loom over you.
Maybe it makes sense, then, that the guys behind Be My Eyes hail from Denmark, where you’re much more likely to hear about a more “social” approach. And if we think of human interaction as give and take, as an exchange of ideas or assistance as a true social interaction – maybe Be My Eyes has created the first truly social network.
On November 6, the LightHouse held its first-ever soldering workshop for people who are blind or have low vision. It was a huge success, and we have the photographs to prove it! Scroll down for more.
Soldering is a fundamental skill in electronics work that involves using a hot iron to fuse metal to form a permanent connection between electronic components. The aim of the workshop was to help students make their own accessible continuity testers – one of the most fundamental tools for students working in electronics without vision.
While most continuity testers use lights to indicate the strength of electric currents, accessible continuity testers emit a range of tones — high for a free path and low for an impeded path. Unfortunately, accessible continuity testers cannot be purchased, and previous manufacturers have ceased production. Each student left the workshop with a fully-functioning accessible continuity tester for use in their future work; and the skills to solder it themselves.
“Blind people are makers. We can do things like soldering and building robots and woodworking,” says Dr. Miele. “We might use slightly different techniques, but the outcome is the same. The LightHouse is all about teaching these alternative techniques so that people can engage in the activities they love, whether they’re sighted or not.”
Here are a few lovely shots from the workshop, by photographer Erin Conger:
The LightHouse’s Innovation Lab will continue to offer workshops in STEM fields, so stay tuned. It is part of our mission to strengthen the representation of people who are blind or have low vision in the tech industry and other STEM fields.
For more information about future workshops visit the LightHouse Calendar or contact Director of Community Services Lisamaria Martinez via email at email@example.com or by phone at 415-431-1481.
May 19th is Global Accessibility Awareness Day, and we couldn’t be happier to see this event grow and become greater each year. This week Apple and Google have both wholeheartedly embraced #GAAD, and many smaller apps have even taken the opportunity to release updates specifically ensuring compatibility with VoiceOver.
We decided that it’d be the perfect day to let loose a full video of our recent SXSW panel, “Mainstreaming Accessibility.” The event brought together five brilliant, pioneering individuals from Pixar, ProTools, Be My Eyes and VocalID to have a thoughtful and wide-ranging discussion about what good design can achieve. Moderated by the LightHouse’s media and communications officer, Will Butler, the discussion gives an exciting look into the future of movies, music, and technology for not only the blind but for those with speech disorders and other disabilities.
Sit back and enjoy, and have a happy #GAAD!
If your organization would love to increase the accessibility of your products and services, a good place to start is at the San Francisco Lighthouse for the Blind. You can contact Will Butler at 415-431-1481 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to begin a conversation.