BeSpecular App – my introduction

A skeptical spectator’s sightless senses ‘see’ the spectacular new Application called BeSpecular… and with that feeble attempt at alliterative poetry, I will get right down to what I am best at and leave the word wizardry for those literature linguists around the globe. Let me rather just be a story teller. A safer option for this keyboard tickling tale teller that has discovered a cool piece of tech to tattle on about.

What most blind people know and what most sighted individuals don’t realise, is that us visually impaired people absolutely hate having to ask for help. We would rather stumble over things and pull hairs out than have to, through grinding teeth, utter the words: “Can you please tell me what this says?” or “What colour is this?” or “Where can I find xyz?”

To my utter delight, I was recently introduced to a new Application that can assist us broken-eyed humans, regardless of where we are and what time of day, or night it is. The App was only launched this month, July 2016. Since first downloading it, I cannot stop playing, fiddling and smiling away. What an ingenious idea this is that I would like to share with all my readers.

Once a user has downloaded the app, which has a free basic version, they can either register as a volunteer or a VIP. That is a Visually Impaired Person. The person needing assistance can then, through a very easy to use and accessible platform, snap a pic and send a request to the sighted volunteers and ask for clarification of what the picture contains. This team of volunteers will help you by describing what they see i.e. Reading the label on an unknown box or selecting an outfit and helping to confirm if your socks match. This can be a great help when wondering which of the two cans you have is the corn and which is the peach slices. I have been known to try sniff a can to determine its contents, but my bloodhound senses come up negative each time and I need to rather open both cans or wait for someone to ask for help.

I know that some people can simply start a video chat with a friend and ask to loan there eyes for a second, but again, we don’t like asking for help unless we absolutely have to. And there is added frustration if there is nobody available to ask.

There are other apps out there that use computerised algorhythms to describe an image – although remarkable, these Apps have limited abilities and lack the unique ‘human’ touch that BeSpecular has. Most of the tech made available to blind people, such as screen reading software, means that much of our engagement with technology is via a highly synthesised and computerised voice. Blindies truly miss human warmth that is so clear in a photograph for sighted individuals. The BeSpecular tool provides one with a sense of comfort when asking for help from an actual volunteer – with the added bonus of feeling accomplished at the end of a task having completed it alone. Well, kind of alone that is.

The App was created by a couple of young innovators who developed and incubated the idea while attending summer school at Stanford University in the USA. The developers are an Italian, Giacomo Parmeggiani and, much to my surprise and delight, a South African – Stephanie Cowper. This made me feel so proud and patriotic for my home country. Go the Springboks.

The first thing I did after downloading BeSpecular was to position a large unpeeled onion on the table in front of me and snap away a pic. I positioned my iPhone with the lens over the tear-making vegetable, opened the application and double clicked on the ‘take a picture button’ that my voiceover guided me to. Next step was to ask a question. I simply dictated the following message “Hello there, can anyone please let me know if this is a red or white onion?”  (If you haven’t realised it yet, I spend a lot of time cooking). The application submitted my request to its online volunteer base and about twenty seconds later, I had my first reply. It was from someone called Susan. She chose to send me a voice reply that said, “Hello Chris, this is definitely a white onion. Enjoy your chopping and tears that will follow.” Seconds later another couple of replies followed confirming Susan’s assessment. I then clicked on the link that asked me if I would like more responses or not. I was super impressed and promptly gave Susan a 5 star rating.

I played away for a couple hours with this App and even tried to trick the volunteers a few times by purposefully hiding the tab labels of the soda bottles. But there was always someone who could assist and help solve the mystery for me.

At one point, I faced the camera towards my cocker spaniel, Isabella, and snapped away a photo. My message read “Is my dog cool or what?” replies flowed in, again within seconds. “Yes, Isabella is a beautiful girl.” One person even jokingly said that she was almost as beautiful as his bulldog (she growled when I told her this).

The BeSpecular application is amazing and I know that I will be using it regularly. I am already anticipating how useful it will be when travelling and needing to read a sign or a notice board. It has already helped me immensely in the kitchen as a tool to identify ingredients. As a visually impaired person, I am super impressed with how smart and easy the App is to use.

Check it out on and download it from the App store. it is available on iOS and android devices.  I think this is going to develop into a much larger tool for us VIPs and could be developed into a navigation tool as well as an assistive learning aid. I feel lucky to have discovered it in its early days and am excited about the possibilities.

Thank you Stephanie and Giacomo… I look forward to using this helpful tool when I travel from Paris to Palermo by train in 2018. I am sure that I will get myself lost a lot and am certain that BeSpecular will help me find my way, not miss trains, not eat the wrong things and maybe even see some stuff that I would have otherwise missed.

#Blind #Accessible #Travel #BeSpecular #BlindScooterGuy


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