9 Tips to Becoming a Better Volunteer

9 Tips to Becoming a Better Volunteer

Learn some tips directly from our community of over 260,000 blind and visually impaired users on how to be the most effective visual assistant.
Woman smiling while on a video call on her smartphone.
Woman smiling while on a video call on her smartphone.

Have you just downloaded the app and signed up to provide visual assistance for someone in need? Or maybe you’ve been signed up for a while and helped out several times. Regardless, we can always get better at providing assistance — which is why this International Volunteers Day we’re sharing some tips directly from our users on how to be an effective visual aid! By the end of this article, we hope that you will confidently provide visual assistance and be ready for your next Be My Eyes call. 

“First thing you can say is exactly what you can see from the camera.” 

This may seem like a simple one, but it’s one of the most important ways to start a Be My Eyes call well. Simply present yourself, listen to what the user needs help with, and then clearly describe what you see from their camera. This helps to orient and guide them to where they need to put their camera. It also immediately addresses whether or not there is enough lighting in the room, and shows whoever you are helping that you are taking the first steps to solve their task successfully. 

“Sometimes the volunteers are too passive or slow, and you have to ask many questions. It’s more helpful if the volunteer immediately tells you to put the camera down, or move the camera. [As a volunteer], be specific and be direct.” 

Following the previous advice, this is the next step to make for a helpful Be My Eyes call. Users do not always know where to properly place their phone, so it’s your job to direct them and position the phone correctly. This can be a bit tricky, but with a bit of patience and clear straightforward instructions, you can be an effective visual assistant while making someone’s day brighter. 

“People need to know what they’re getting into. Some people pick up a call and don’t know what to do.”

This may seem like a big one, but it really doesn’t have to be. You have to be ready to take a Be My Eyes call. Making a legitimate difference in someone’s day deserves a certain amount of respect, so make sure that you are ready to take a call when you answer that notification on your phone. Some users have reported volunteers taking calls when driving, which is obviously not advised. Before taking a call, make sure that you have the time to help out; and rest assured that if you are busy, another volunteer will be able to help.

Hand moving wooden block with a red arrow pointing to the right. In the background are other blocks with blue arrows pointing to the left.

“One thing I would really appreciate is clear, concise directions on which way they need the camera to be pointed. I've never had sight and have no concept on how a camera takes a picture, at what angle the phone needs to be held, or how far it reaches. A clock face works really well for me, if possible.”

Putting yourself in the shoes of those who need help can be great practice for becoming a better volunteer. Smartphones are incredibly versatile and accessible, so it’s important to understand that individuals with differing vision benefit and enjoy their phones just as much as you. However, cameras are one of the areas that can be a bit tricky. Answer a call with an open mind, and remember to be clear with the directions you give to make for smoother visual assistance. 

“Don’t answer if you’re distracted doing something else already. Such as taking care of your kids or driving. I know it can be exciting to get a call, but it isn’t helpful when you can’t devote your attention to assisting. This is not to say that I am not super grateful for the volunteers, because I 100% am! This is speaking from experience.”

It seems like a no brainer to turn down a video call request while driving, yet some volunteers do it! There is no shame in having to turn down a call if your mind is elsewhere. Likely, the user will receive assistance quicker if they receive help from someone with a clear mind and no distractions. Without distractions, you can focus on reading small print, distinguishing clothing, and more than that letting the person you are helping feel like you care and are completely there for them. 

“Friendly patience...I suspect it is frustrating for those seeking assistance, so a pleasant attitude and sense of humor is important.”

This advice ties in nicely with the last tip. If you feel distracted, you most likely will not come into a call with the patience to help someone. Remember that these people need help, and if you are not in the mood or do not have the time, it is okay to just not answer the call and let another volunteer help. It can be intimidating for users to call a stranger and ask for help, so a little bit of patience goes a long way. 

“Practice with friends or family first - both as the "helper" and as the person getting help. It can take some practice to get the language/directions right for things like asking the person to move their camera or adjust the tilt and focus.”

A lot of volunteers just download the app and wait patiently for their first call, but not everyone practices how to give visual assistance beforehand. It could be helpful to practice with a friend, just over Facetime, on giving directions and getting acquainted with providing remote visual assistance. It could be a fun way to spend some time with family across the country while becoming a better volunteer. 

“I would like for the volunteer to announce their name and if they would tell us what part of the country they live in.”

One of the greatest things about Be My Eyes is that people from all over the world, in over 150 countries use the app. That means that a user in Iowa could potentially be connected with a volunteer in South Africa, or anywhere else in the world. This has the potential to create some really interesting exchanges and conversations and, as a volunteer, gives you the opportunity to learn a bit about life on the other side of the world while helping someone out. Most users also love to know that people all around the world want to help them out, and it does a lot to spread the good around the community!

“Answer the call with a smile because I promise you they can tell. Be kind and willing to chat.”

More than being a platform for providing visual assistance, Be My Eyes is a great way to spread a smile around the world. Helping others does more than just provide assistance, it makes people feel good — and we could all use an extra smile these days.

Thank you all so much for volunteering, and for helping our community out. Just by signing up, you are taking a step towards making a more inclusive society for us all!