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Blind Man Found Father’s Grave Thanks To Stranger On Video Chat

by : Emily Brown on : 29 Jan 2020 15:03
Blind Man Able To Find His Father’s Grave Thanks To Stranger On Video ChatJonathan Attenborough

Every day is filled with menial tasks many people don’t think twice about, but for the visually impaired those same tasks can be much more difficult.

Checking use-by dates on food, for example, or picking things up from where you’ve dropped them on the floor. They’re typically considered insignificant events, but they’re exactly the kind of thing 30-year-old Jonathan Attenborough struggles with.

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Jonathan, a disability campaigner from Fife, Scotland, was born with microphthalmia and coloboma, conditions that mean he is completely blind in his right eye.

Jonathan Attenborough stroking his guide dog, SamJonathan Attenborough

Jonathan still had some useful vision in his left eye until about four years ago, when he developed an aggressive form of glaucoma. He underwent an operation in an attempt to try and stop the progression of the disease, but it was unsuccessful and left Jonathan only able to see shapes and shadows.

Jonathan is now officially registered as blind and is assisted in day-to-day life by his guide dog, Sam. However, while Sam provides help in numerous, important ways, there are some things the good boy just can’t do, like read a use-by date.

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For tasks like this, Jonathan needs an extra pair of eyes, which he is able to find through the Be My Eyes app. The innovative program connects blind and low-vision users with volunteers from across the globe through live video chat, meaning volunteers can help those in need with whatever they might be struggling with.

Find out more about Be My Eyes here:

Anyone can become a volunteer for Be My Eyes by downloading the app, and when a visually impaired person needs help they simply click a button which says ‘call next available volunteer’. Calls are sent to multiple volunteers simultaneously, based on time zone and language, so whoever picks up first is the one to offer assistance.

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Jonathan first became aware of Be My Eyes about a year ago, when he came across people talking about it on social media. The 30-year-old told UNILAD his usage of the app varies depending on where he is and what he’s doing day-to-day, but he sometimes finds himself calling volunteers up to four times a week.

Speaking about how the app has impacted his life, the disability campaigner said:

Be My Eyes can help me with what might seem to some people the most simple of tasks, such as identifying different tins in the cupboard or finding specific shops on an unfamiliar street.

It’s such a simple but extremely effective idea, and it has a real positive impact on my life.

It’s extremely reassuring to know that I have this incredible tool right there in my pocket to use whenever I need it.

Jonathan Attenborough kneeling next to his guide dogJonathan Attenborough
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While Jonathan tends to use the app for everyday tasks, there are occasions when he needs assistance with more meaningful activities. One in particular took place last summer, when he wanted to lay some flowers on his father’s grave.

Jonathan knew the general area where the headstone was located, but was unable to find the specific grave by himself. Still, he wanted to visit independently, without the help of a friend or family member, so he used Be My Eyes to ask a volunteer to locate the grave with his father’s name on it.

The campaigner explained:

I held my phone in the direction of the gravestones, so as I walked along they were able to let me know when I got to my dad’s stone.

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Jonathan described the experience of being able to visit his dad’s grave by himself as ‘empowering’, and pointed out years ago it would have been ‘pretty much impossible for a blind person to do this without assistance’.

Visually impaired people could turn to strangers on the street or friends and family for help, but Jonathan told UNILAD these aren’t always reliable options.

He explained there is a feeling of reassurance that comes with knowing the person on the other end of the phone ‘really wants to help’ as they’ve chosen to become a volunteer, whereas a stranger on the street may be too busy – or simply unwilling – to offer assistance.

Similarly, family members may be otherwise tied up and unable to come to the phone multiple times a week.

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It’s a sad reality, and we can only hope that raising awareness of the issue will encourage more people to take the time to help in real life, but it’s good that visually impaired people always have Be My Eyes to fall back on.

Jonathan commented:

Be My Eyes is brilliant because I know I can get the assistance I need in the moment that I need it.

Rather than being a digital assistant in the form of an AI or whatever, it’s providing that human-to-human connection, which is fantastic.

Be My Eyes was set up on January 15, 2015 and has since gone on to become the largest online community for blind and low-vision people, as well as one of the largest micro-volunteering platforms in the world.

The app is the brainchild of Hans Jørgen Wiberg, a furniture craftsman from Denmark who is himself visually impaired. Hans was volunteering with the Danish Association of the Blind when he noticed people regularly needing assistance with simple, everyday tasks.

After a blind friend told Hans he was using video calls to connect with family and friends and ask for help with these tasks, the idea for Be My Eyes was born.

Be My Eyes founder showing app on phoneBe My Eyes

The app now has more than 3,300,000 sighted volunteers who have signed up to help more than 185,000 blind and low-vision users, according to CCO Alexander Hauerslev Jensen.

As well as getting assistance from regular volunteers, By My Eyes offers a ‘specialised help’ function that allows companies to connect with visually impaired customers to provide better, more accessible customer support.

Microsoft, Google, Lloyds Bank, Bank of Scotland and P&G are among the first companies offering customer support through the app, though Alexander told UNILAD Be My Eyes will be expanding its collaboration with other companies in the coming months.

Alexander agreed with Jonathan in saying the app ‘empowers’ people to lead more independent lives by enabling them to be less reliant on their friends and family, but the CCO believes Be My Eyes is also key to ‘breaking down barriers between people with and without disabilities, and increasing awareness about accessibility to help build a more inclusive world’.

He explained:

Our technology takes the simple concept of connecting someone who needs assistance with someone who can provide it, regardless of those individuals’ nationalities, income levels, races or beliefs. The stories of the benefits that come out of these calls, for both parties, are truly uplifting.

Indeed, countless positive comments from Be My Eyes volunteers prove how uplifting it can be to help someone in need, and the app allows people to do so simply by picking up the phone.

Volunteer helping user choose suncream on Be My Eyes chatBe My Eyes

In turn, Jonathan and the 185,000 other visually impaired users are able to complete daily tasks that, as the disability campaigner said, may otherwise be ‘impossible’.

Whether it’s advising someone to throw out an old milk carton or helping them find a loved one’s grave, the ways in which Be My Eyes can make lives easier are endless.

If you’d like to become a volunteer, you can download the app here.

If you have a story you want to tell, send it to UNILAD via [email protected]

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Emily Brown

Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.

Topics: Featured, blind