Something as simple as a phone camera could transform how organisations help customers with a disability and be a boost to customer service teams within the public and private sector.
For many people, tasks like setting up wifi in a new home, or using services such as online banking can be complicated. Without eyesight, or with other disabilities, such tasks can prove far more difficult again.
The founders of an app called Be My Eyes are hoping to make these jobs easier for people who are blind specifically. They will do this by offering the help of a sighted customer service person at banks, tech companies and other organisations via their phone camera app.
The app is already being used by 100,000 people with vision impairment around the world to get help from sighted volunteers for everyday tasks. When a person with vision impairment needs the use of a ‘pair of eyes’ for anything from checking food sell-by dates to choosing clothes or catching the right bus, they can ask for volunteer assistance via the free app. Usually within 30 seconds, the person who is blind or partially sighted will be connected to one of 1.5 million volunteers around the world.
The app has this month been awarded the annual AbilityNet Tech4Good Accessibility Award for its outstanding contribution to improving accessibility for disabled people via technology.
The first business on the app is Microsoft. Since February, Be My Eyes users have been able to connect to a sighted person on the Microsoft Disability Answer Desk for advice on setting up new programmes or how to use the accessibility features within Microsoft programmes.
The initiative furthers the conversation around how organisations can offer better help to all customers, so that no one is left out in the digital age. It can enable those who would otherwise struggle, and potentially become excluded, to quickly access someone who is more able understand the problem they’re experiencing. It offers an easy way to remove some of the barriers to technology and digital services that currently exist in the UK and across the world.
Often businesses or services do limited or no user testing with people of different abilities and are unaware of how lacking in inclusivity their offering is. They are potentially turning away millions of valuable customers. “Close your eyes and try to set up wifi in a new place,” says Alexander Hauerslev Jensen, community director at Be My Eyes. “It’s more or less impossible. Live video just makes the interaction so much faster.
“If someone from the company can see the problem in real time, issues with their products or service could be resolved more efficiently,” he adds. “Each call represents something that’s poorly designed from an accessibility standpoint. It will mean companies will get very unique knowledge and then can change things – whether that’s identifying bugs or making packaging which is more accessible.”
Microsoft has been able to reduce the time taken on calls to the answer desk since it started using the app. “They’re receiving a significant number of calls through the app and agents have been able to identify problems immediately using the camera,” explains Jensen.
“Since we launched four years ago,” he adds, “a common theme has been calls from people who need help with higher level technical tasks or who really need help from companies directly, this is why we launched this service known as ‘Specialized Help’. We know that companies have issues providing good user support to people with disabilities.”
“The world is very badly designed for people with visual impairment,” says Jensen. “It’s good for people to talk to those who know about a specific issue really well, ie the relevant company themselves.”