December 4, 2018

By Elise Tabor, Access Technology Specialist
The Iris Network
November, 2018

When it comes to having easy access to a sighted assistant through a smartphone there are two services that stand out. Be My Eyes and AIRA are free, downloadable applications (apps) available for both iOS (Apple) and Android. Each service provides access to a sighted individual who is available to help with a variety of tasks through the camera on a mobile device. Both services have unique benefits and are geared toward different user needs. 

Be My Eyes is an entirely free service provided by volunteers around the world. Upon opening the app, one selects whether they are a blind user or a sighted volunteer and creates an account.  At any time, a user can activate the service and be paired with an available volunteer. Assistants help with a variety of tasks such as identifying colors, reading labels on packages or food items, helping find dropped items, and much more. As this is free, it can benefit a broad array of users. Be My Eyes is already available anywhere, however its volunteers do not have access to a user’s GPS location or any information other than what they have with them. For simple tasks such as looking through a spice cabinet, reading the sender on an envelope or similarly non-private activities, Be My Eyes is an excellent choice.  

AIRA’s name is derived from Artificial Intelligence (AI), and the ancient Egyptian mythological being and symbol known as the Eye of Ra (RA). AIRA is a growing program that provides two levels of service. The first of these is free, usable by anyone who downloads the app and opens it as a guest. AIRA partners with an ever increasing list of businesses that allow users on their properties to use the app for free. In addition, AIRA supports small business owners and job seekers, allowing for functions related to employment and the acquisition of a job at no charge. AIRA also provides a paid service starting at $29.99 per month for those who wish to use it anywhere. Each monthly package grants higher amounts of minutes that the service can be used outside of AIRA access locations, which are free, and without using their promotional services. One of these promotional services includes the use of a computer while navigating with any software from Vispero such as JAWS or ZoomText. Their agents are fully trained and have access to a user’s GPS location as well as any information that person could want; such as step-by-step guidance to a new location, visual guidance through an airport, or objective descriptions of items and the surrounding environment. AIRA provides a well-trained, premium service that currently can come at a cost, depending on the needs of the user. Because of this, AIRA can operate successfully in just about any situation one could think of or imagine themselves in. As time goes on, AIRA finds more and more ways to make its service free to everyone anywhere.  

For location guidance, reading of private material, assistance with apps such as Uber and Lift, job-related tasks, or any other task where it may be beneficial to have a professional available, AIRA certainly is the best option. Both services have their strengths and both cater to different needs. Be My Eyes aims to provide volunteer service to anyone anywhere while AIRA aims to ultimately provide the same service and access to the world with trained professionals. In a world where technology provides access to so many things, these two apps take advantage of such availability and make sighted access to the environment a service that is always in reach.


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