Lend your sight, make a difference

Want to help? Here are four ways you can make a meaningful difference in the lives of people who are blind

A bearded man looks through a transparent smartphone

There are many ways for sighted individuals to assist people who are blind – including the Be My Eyes app. The app allows sighted volunteers to lend their vision via smartphone to help with visual tasks, like reading labels on a can or identifying colors. (Photo from Be My Eyes.)

April 4, 2017

For the past six years, I’ve been immersed in my sorority’s philanthropy, Service for Sight, which supports 150 sight-related organizations.

In college, I remember handing out “sight tips” on campus with my sisters, volunteering at the Dallas Lighthouse for the Blind and raising money for our foundation through our annual Anchor Splash fundraising event.

Today, I’m involved in the alumnae chapter in Boston, where we partner with different organizations in the area that support the blind and visually impaired community. From supporting “Team with a Vision” at the Boston Marathon, to spending every Wednesday as a one-on-one volunteer, I’ve grown increasingly aware of different ways to give back to a cause that is so near and dear to my heart.

Of course, not every person who is blind needs assistance – many lead active, successful and independent lives. But others could use a helping hand. If you want to make a difference in the life of someone who is blind, here are some ways you can get started.

Use the power of technology

Technology has made it easy and convenient to help someone who is blind. If you have a smartphone, there are apps that are specifically designed to assist the blind and visually impaired community. I’d suggest you start with Be My Eyes, an app available on iOS and Android that connects individuals who are blind or visually impaired with sighted helpers from around the world. It allows a person with visual impairment to request help with things like reading the expiration date on a carton of milk or assistance with navigating new surroundings. Volunteers receive a live video connection and can help answer any questions at the tap of their finger.

Another good option is BlindWays. Launched by Perkins School for the Blind in 2016, BlindWays makes the MBTA bus system more accessible. Sighted volunteers can visit an MBTA bus stop and contribute "clues" or landmarks to the app to ensure accuracy. The app then gives navigational tips, arrival times and nearby bus stop information to a person who is blind or visually impaired.

Make a donation

If you’re looking to take it a step further, every blindness organization could use financial support. Monetary donations can be used to support programs and services that support and empower people who are blind or visually impaired. Check out the Perkins School for the Blind and the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI) websites to find out how your contribution can transform lives.

Volunteer your time

As a young professional, I personally can’t afford to donate money (maybe one day). So, I give two hours per week volunteering with MABVI. Volunteering is as flexible as you need it to be. On a weekly, monthly or even quarterly basis, you can use your eyesight to help someone who is blind run errands, review paperwork, read a book, go running and more.

Recycle your eyeglasses

According to All About Vision, nearly 700 million people around the world have impaired vision that could easily be helped with a pair of glasses. However, many communities don’t have the proper access to eyeglasses. There are several organizations that give your used eyeglasses a new purpose. Why not start with Lions Clubs International? The Lions' "Recycle for Sight" program collects old eyeglasses, reading glasses and sunglasses, and cleans and repairs them to distribute to people who can't afford to buy their own. They accept both prescription and non-prescription eyewear in all sizes.

This only scratches the surface of how you can lend your sight and other resources to improve the lives of people who are blind – the opportunities are endless.

Stephanie Ross is a freelance writer and public relations professional in Boston. She is a member of the Boston Alumnae Chapter of Delta Gamma Fraternity and has been volunteering with the blind community for six years.