by Will Butler
From the Editor: President Riccobono introduced this special announcement with these words: “Every year now for a number of years we’ve had our Bolotin Award program. One of the things we do in the Bolotin Awards is acknowledge individuals and organizations that are undertaking innovative projects to help blind people live the lives they want. And, since we are the premier organization of blind people, we seek opportunities to partner with our Bolotin Award winners. I’d like to introduce for a few remarks one of our recent Bolotin Awardees who has come to talk about some recent developments and future developments with the National Federation of the Blind. Representing Be My Eyes, here is the vice president of Be My Eyes, Will Butler.”
Thank you, President Riccobono. When the blind Danish craftsman Hans Jørgen Wiberg came up with the idea for Be My Eyes back in 2013, it was based on a pretty simple concept: what if we could get blind people the support they needed, when they needed it, and that’s it. What if independence actually meant decentralizing when and how you ask for help so that you never had to tap the same person twice and not tax the sighted relationships in your life? [applause]
When we launched almost five years ago, we didn’t know if we were going to be able to build the community support platform that we were imagining. But in the first twenty-four hours we had 10,000 signups, and with the ongoing support of organizations such as the National Federation of the Blind and with the Bolotin Award that we received last year, we’ve been able to build that community into one of the largest global communities of blind and visually-impaired people across the world in 150 different countries, speaking about 185 different languages, 138,000 blind and visually impaired people. And as of this week we have about 2.5 million volunteers signed up for the platform. [applause]
But that was just the first step for us. In 2018 we introduced experts to the platform. We invited brands from tech support to personal care to banking; world leaders like Microsoft, Google, and Proctor & Gamble, who now provide support to our community through their experts every day. And just like Be My Eyes (the volunteering side), the expert support is free. Google recently launched its accessibility support video service globally across our platform so that now it’s available to everyone in the world.
Yesterday we announced a new partner called Clearblue. For those that don’t know, Clearblue is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of the home pregnancy test, a product that historically has been woefully inaccessible. If you ask a friend who is a blind woman who has a pregnancy story, she will also tell you a second story about who read her results. Starting this week, we are closing that gap with Clearblue, who will now be providing private, anonymous, and free interpretations of readings of home pregnancy and fertility test results for women anywhere in the world. [applause]
I share this today to communicate the brand of independence we are after at Be My Eyes. It’s a brand that brings awareness to accessibility issues that gives our users the peace of mind and confidence to live a life untethered and doesn’t put up any additional barriers to accessing information simply because you can’t see. To be clear, we don’t believe that information that is accessible to some 95 or 99 percent of the population is something you should have to pay for access to. [applause, cheers]
But there’s another kind of expertise that can’t be delivered through the eyes. Mentorship, sage wisdom, lived experience, in my opinion is the best way to live a life with confidence and zeal, and that’s why I’m pleased that we’ve worked with the NFB leadership to set up a partnership that will allow the NFB to join our specialized help platform, not as users but as providers of expert support. [applause] So with an emphasis on families, parenting, and daily life, NFB experts will be able to answer calls from our users starting this fall and give our users not help through the eyes, but a perspective that could be even more valuable. I personally am thrilled and excited to see how this helps our community grow and flourish, and I just want to thank the National Federation of the Blind for all of its support over the years, and here’s to the future for Be My Eyes. Thank you. [applause]