2020 has truly been, for better and for worse, quite a memorable year for the whole world. With the impact of a global pandemic, we find ourselves in a very different place than just a year ago. Even though these are extremely trying times, there is light in the darkness, and going into 2021 we want to look at the positives. With everything that has been going on in the world, there has still been room for the Be My Eyes Community to grow and evolve. Therefore, let’s say so long to 2020 by sharing the many positive things that happened in the Be My Eyes Community!
We started the year off by celebrating the fifth birthday of the Be My Eyes Community. In January of 2015, the very first version of the Be My Eyes app was released — and boy have we come a long way since. We couldn’t have done it without our amazing community — so congratulations to all of you for the first five years, and here’s to many more!
2020 has been a year where we’ve welcomed many new members of the Be My Eyes Community. With people being isolated and lacking access to their regular support networks, the potential of the Be My Eyes app and community has been more effective than ever. For people who are blind or have low vision, Be My Eyes has enabled them to receive visual assistance while being socially distanced, and for sighted people, Be My Eyes has provided an opportunity to make a difference from their own homes. This year, we hit some major community milestones with 4 million volunteers in July, and 200,000 blind and low-vision users in March and a further 50,000 in October making the blind community of Be My Eyes more than a quarter of a million. A warm welcome to all new community members in 2020, we’re so happy to have you!
In 2020 we released the second season of The Be My Eyes Podcast as well as a brand new podcast; 13 Letters. While The Be My Eyes Podcast is a casual conversation with a wide variety of members of the blind community, 13 Letters digs deep into the professional concept of accessibility together with industry leaders. Both podcasts are available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify and Stitcher as well as on our website. Even though both podcasts have been on hiatus for the latter part of 2020, they’ll be strongly returning in 2021!
The COVID-19 pandemic forced us all to stand together by distance. In support of the relief work and frontline workers, Global Citizen hosted their One World: Together at Home event, where artists from all over the world would tune in to perform for the cause. Be My Eyes had the pleasure of being an official audio description partner, by giving blind and low-vision users access to connect with Global Citizen volunteers for live, personalized audio descriptions. The success was repeated for BET’s show Saving OurSelves, paving the way for the Be My Eyes platform to bring greater accessibility to live events.
Even though the COVID pandemic has taken most of our attention in 2020, it was also the year of the highly anticipated US Presidential Election. To make sure that voter registration was accessible for citizens with a vision impairment, we teamed up with Vote.org, to assist blind and low-vision users register for the election. Up until the registration deadline, Be My Eyes users in the US were able to connect with Vote.org’s volunteers who could assist with voter registration and information.
During the year, we have also expanded the community with many local and national blindness organizations from around the world. This gives their community a direct way to connect with blindness experts in their area, and gives the blindness organizations another reason to promote Be My Eyes to their members. Below is a list of local and national blindness organizations that have joined Be My Eyes in 2020:
In November, we teamed up with a groundbreaking pharmaceutical company called Accessible Pharmacy to make their services even more accessible! Founded by a visually impaired entrepreneur, accessibility is at the core of their services and made for people who are blind or visually impaired. Accessible Pharmacy now also offers accessible customer support through Be My Eyes for any pharmacy related questions. They even offer at-home COVID-tests and guidance with the test through Be My Eyes. Pharmacy services don’t get more accessible than this!
We have collaborated with Procter & Gamble since 2019, offering accessible support with Herbal Essences, Pantene, and ClearBlue products through our Specialized Help platform. This summer, 14 other P&G brands joined Be My Eyes Specialized Help making cleaning, personal hygiene, laundry and more a lot more accessible. Below is the full list of P&G brands available through Be My Eyes:
In July, we hosted our very first webinar about how to make a business case for supporting people with disabilities. Joining us for the webinar was Caroline Casey, Founder of the Valuable 500, Kyndra LoCoco, Accessibility Partner and Community Programs Manager at Google, and Neil Barnett, Director of Inclusive Hiring and Accessibility and Microsoft. If you missed the one-hour webinar, you can check it out on our Youtube channel. We’ve also taken full advantage of the Zoom platform to host community calls with hundreds of users from around the world, really getting to know our community in a way we never have before!
For Global Accessibility Awareness Day, we wanted to highlight the many different meanings behind accessibility, and how accessibility means something different for different people. We therefore asked a variety of people from our community to finish the sentence “Accessibility is…” in a way that would explain what accessibility means to them. We got a lot of different and important answers that we collected in a video to celebrate the day. Even though Global Accessibility Awareness Day is long gone, the message is still just as relevant, so check out the campaign on our Youtube channel!
One of the new features released in 2020 was improved Siri shortcuts. Using Siri is a great way for blind and low-vision users to open the app and initiate a call. Now, it’s also possible to make custom shortcuts to the Specialized Help companies that users call often. The Siri shortcuts can be added and edited in the app settings, and if you make several calls to the same Specialized Help company, Be My Eyes might suggest you to make a Siri shortcut.
There has never been a free, global conference dedicated to AI and other cutting edge tech for the visually impaired – until this year. We were pleased to host Sight Tech Global this year, with speakers from the world’s leading technology companies and thousands of attendees turning in from around the world. Best of all, the event was a fundraiser for one of our partner organizations, the Vista Center for the Blind in California. You can watch the whole thing at the Sight Tech YouTube.
2020 has definitely been very different than expected. Although challenging, it has also brought the Be My Eyes Community together in a beautiful way. We’ll be going into 2021 with a positive mindset and a hope that a brighter time is ahead for all of us. Even though you might have celebrated a little different this year, we hope you had a great holiday season, and at Be My Eyes we wish you all a Happy New Year. See you in 2021!