2018 Highlights: where are we with access to sighted help and tech?


It has been, in my opinion an amazing year in terms of technology and how we, visually impaired people can use it to enhance our independence. From AI apps that use your camera to recognise text, colours, and more, to services that use human assistance and combine the use of technology and the human eye, to smart glasses of all different kinds, all offering more reliable alternatives to the smartphone apps, there has certainly been quite a lot to keep us busy this year!

Envision AI

One app which certainly has and still strikes some interesting discussion is Envision AI. This time last year we were all over Microsoft’s Seeing AI app, completely free and extremely rich in features. This year Envision AI made its way to the VI market, on both platforms to give people more choice. The big difference between Seeing AI and Envision AI is the price. Seeing AI is free, but is still, after all this time, only available on IOS. Envision AI however, is on both platforms but works by offering different subscription plans, ranging from a monthly plan to a one-off payment for a lifetime. A 14 day trial is also offered. A large amount of people reported that Envision AI is a lot more accurate than Seeing AI, especially when reading small text, and have therefore not hesitated to pay for a subscription because of the independence they feel the app gives them. Another major aspect of the app is the customer to developer relationship, ranging from the ability to receive emails with any news about the app, to being able to give feedback to the developer and actually receive a personalised email promptly. On the other hand, with Seeing AI, I especially can say that I do feel that it is very hard to communicate with Microsoft about any issues with the app, and as for newsletters, not once have I or anyone else I know seen an option to receive anything to tell us how things are going behind the scenes.

Sighted help and its place today

Despite the huge range of apps available to us, especially on the iPhone, there is still plenty of room for the human eye. sometimes apps just don’t meet the level of accuracy we need, especially for work-related tasks or being able to find out information an app can’t give us. This is where there are 2 big contenders, one free, and one with a cost. Be my eyes launched in 2015 on IOS and became available for Android in late 2017. It works by connecting a visually impaired person who has the Be my eyes app with a sighted volunteer who also has the app on their phone. There is no cost to the anyone, regardless of whether they are sighted or not. Currently there are over 2 million sighted volunteers, all ready to stop what they are doing and help a visually impaired person out. This year the app won 2 awards, and I was extremely pleased to have the opportunity to have a chat with the person behind the whole idea, so the interview will be available further in this post, it is well worth a listen. The paid competitor is Aira, which unlike Be my eyes offers different payment plans for users, all with different amounts of minutes. The agents are trained and paid to offer help, and are able to do a little more than Be my eyes volunteers, such as see your location with Google maps and provide guidance. There is a pretty high cost to Aira though, but Aira do say that over time they do hope to bring down prices and reach more people. Currently not all countries are able to access Aira, unlike Be my eyes being available worldwide. If you are a small business owner however, you can access Aira for free as long as you are using it for tasks related to your business. In the UK this is how most people access Aira, unless you are in an Aira access location, such as Heathrow airport. The big question is, what should people choose? Well, I guess the best answer I can give is that’s up to you to decide. Hopefully the following interview might help a little, so sit back, enjoy, and tell me in the comments, what do you think?


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  1. Good article and an excellent interview. Never used Be My Eyes, but after listening to the interview I plan to sign up. I find AIRA too expensive.

    1. Thank you, glad you found it useful, that’s what it’s all about! After all, it’s free, you have nothing to lose but probably lots to gain!

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