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  • Chris McMillan

Seeing for the Sightless

Sixth Tone

6th February 2023

Seeing for the Sightless

Reported by Beijing Youth Daily

On a mobile app that connects the whole world, volunteers lend their eyes to the visually impaired, who in return give their ears to offer soothing comfort.

The first thing Luo Wencong does after he wakes up a little after six in the morning is to weigh himself. Last summer, he attended a training camp in Qingdao, a coastal city in China’s eastern Shandong province, to prepare for the men’s 90 kg judo competition in the provincial 11th Paralympic Games. He needed to lose a few kilos to qualify for the contest.

Luo, 26, suffers from congenital cataracts and is pursuing a degree in acupuncture and massage therapy at a college in Beijing. He needs help on the scales as there is no voice assistant function at the training center. On a mobile app called Be My Eyes (BME), he sends out a video call. Pointing his phone camera at the scales, he asks, “Hello, can you read the number for me, please?” A volunteer on the other end tells him, “91 kg.” Luo says thanks and hangs up.

Usually, these exchanges only last a few seconds.

Being tech savvy, Luo wrote a program back in high school to help the visually impaired memorize English vocabulary, something he himself struggled with. The app would randomly pick a word from a list he composed and he would spell it out after hearing the word. BME, developed by Hans Jørgen Wiberg, a visually impaired man from Denmark, drew Luo’s attention as soon as the Android version was available in China in 2017. Currently, there are 445,000 visually impaired users from all over the world and more than six million volunteers on BME.


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