A woman holding a phone up to her eyes and it saying what it sees

Need An Extra Pair of Eyes?

Are there times when you just cannot figure out what is in the can in your cupboard because you can't see what's on the label? Have you dropped something on the floor and can’t find it? These are just a few of the things that can be difficult for a VIP (Visually Impaired Person) to deal with.

Did you know that if you’re using a smartphone the video camera built into it will allow you to get assistance from a sighted person who can help? It’s true! There are 2 services that allow you to do just that.

Be My Eyes and Aira

Be My Eyes and Aira (pronounced 'eye-rah') are services where you use an app to connect to a person who can see what your video camera sees. You might hear the person on the other end tell you:

  • "Please move your camera to your right so I can see the product better."
  • "Yes, that’s the product you said you are looking for."
  • "The expiration date on that milk is January 1st, 2019. It appears it has expired."
  • "The street sign says Main."
  • "The color of that dress is navy. Those are black shoes, so they don’t exactly match. Yes, those are navy shoes."
  • "The walk light is now green."
  • "That is NOT paprika, it is cayenne pepper!"

There are so many more options!

With both services, you initially download the free app onto your Apple or Android smartphone and set up an account. Once that’s done, it’s a matter of a simple procedure to connect to a person who will help when you need it. Both services have agents available 24/7. These agents are all around the world!

General uses

In my opinion, there are as many uses as there are people who use it! These are only a few of the things that you can get help with in both services:

  • Check expiration dates on products in your cupboard or refrigerator.
  • Get help reading street signs when you are out and about.
  • Find things that you dropped.
  • Figure out what color the shirt is that you are looking at in a store.
  • Have washing instructions on clothing read to you.
  • Set the oven or thermostat temperature.

Differences between Aira and Be My Eyes

The big difference is that Be My Eyes is a free service staffed by volunteers. Aira is not free except for one type of option (more below). Aira is staffed by trained operators. Not long ago, they announced that a call of 5 minutes or less is free. Beyond that, there is a monthly subscription fee. At the time I’m writing this, plans start at $29 per month for a total of 30 minutes during the month.1

Unique to Be My Eyes

Here are some specialized uses of Be My Eyes:

  • They provide customer service agents to help with Google or Microsoft products. For example, you can ask for help setting up a screen reader in Windows.
  • You can connect with another VIP through help from the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). These volunteers can help you to find resources, services, and programs.
  • Can’t read the results of a pregnancy test? Clearvue who makes them will help so you can get this information privately.
  • Be My Eyes has partnered with Herbal Essences who now makes products with bottles that have tactile indications of what is shampoo and what is conditioner. You can talk to a representative from Herbal Essences about picking out the right products and hair care in general.

Unique to Aira

There is a free option called Aira Access. For specific topics you can connect as a guest so that there’s no fee or if you are a subscriber, the minutes won’t count toward your monthly allotment. Aira has partnered with some businesses such as Walgreens, supermarket chains, campuses, sports venues, airports and federal buildings, shopping malls and more. They are always adding something new.

Here are more specialized uses of Aira Access:

  • A highly publicized feature is the use of Aira Access to help a traveler navigate airports they support. The agent can help you read signs, tell you what the line looks at security and ticketing. They have a map so they can help you find the gate, the bathroom, and even find something to eat.  You can get this navigation help in federal buildings, stores, campuses that they support.
  • They can connect you with a computer expert who can use a software called TeamViewer to take over control of your device to help answer questions.
  • You can connect Uber and Lyft apps to Aira. When you want to use one of those rideshare options, you call Aira and have an agent set it up. The agent will also watch for the correct color of the vehicle and even read the license plate number (you have to point your device at it, of course).
  • You can even ask the Aira agent to take a photo for you.
  • The agents can make emergency calls in certain situations. Be My Eyes volunteers can not.

U.S. veterans and Aira

U.S. veterans can get a special subscription deal. It’s also available for people who work for the VA Blind Rehabilitation Services or those who work with blind veterans.

No, insurance doesn’t cover any costs.

Aira Horizon Smart Glasses

There is a product called Aira Horizon Smart Glasses that allow the 'explorer' (that's what Aira calls people who use the service) to access Aira hands-free. The current price for the Horizon Kit (smart glasses and smartphone) is $600 or monthly payments for a rent-to-own option. That's what it is right now.

Which one is for you?

This is my opinion based on my research:

  • Do you travel or need navigation help in federal buildings and other buildings that are supported by Aira? Aira does appear to be the best option. The Aira Horizon Smart Glasses would be helpful because you can keep your hands free to carry luggage and other items.
  • I would try both to see what you think about them.  Both apps are free. You can use Be My Eyes for free. You can use Aira for free if you keep the call to 5 minutes or less or use one of their Aira Access options.  See what you think about fits best with your needs.

If you do try them out, let us know what you think. We are always learning with you!

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MacularDegeneration.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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