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New mobile app offers eyesight to visually-impaired people

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Visually-impaired people in the metro are taking advantage of a new mobile app that gets help from others who can see.

Mark Twain once said, "Kindness is a language the blind can see."

It's bringing eyesight to people who aren't able to see on their own. Non-sighted clients at Alphapointe on Prospect Avenue are excited about Be My Eyes, a free cell phone application works with iPhones and iPads, using a one-way chat window that provides a volunteer service to help non-seeing users with basic tasks.

Jim Fettgather teaches computer literacy courses to the visually-impaired at Alphapointe. He's also blind, having been born with damage to his optic nerve. He's recently started using Be My Eyes for help with general chores.

"Maybe you'd dropped something and couldn't find it," Fettgather said. "Maybe you needed to be color-coordinated and needed to match clothing or to read the directions from a frozen dinner."

Melvin Smith was one of the first to use the new app, which was developed by a firm in Denmark. He says Be My Eyes affords him an efficiency he didn't have beforehand.

"It gives me a taste of someone being generous enough to help me for a quick moment," Smith said. "I wouldn't call it earth-shattering, but it's a nice convenience."

The app's homepage indicates nearly 130,000 sighted users have signed up to serve as volunteers.

Clay Berry is impressed by the app. He's on the management team at Alphapointe, which offers community services to the sight-impaired.

"A tool like this shrinks the world," Berry said. "It's amazing how technology like this, especially assistive technology, can shrink the world and solve those problems."

Fettgather and Smith say they've been amazed by the global reach of Be My Eyes. So far, they've connected with helpers from all across the United States, and even as far away as Norway.

Managers at Alphapointe estimate there are roughly 10,000 legally blind people in the metro. They say a few hundred people are already using the new app.

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