This article has been contributed by Paul Burden. Paul’s mother suffers from wet macular degeneration. Paul founded Our Voice after he discovered the advantages of personal voice assistants and how they can help blind or low vision patients such as his mom. I am impressed with the variety of information and tasks a personal voice assistant, such as Amazon’s Echo, can perform. Enjoy. – Randy.
Personal Voice Assistants have fundamentally changed the way we use technology. A voice assistant can be especially beneficial for the blind and low vision community. It’s difficult to use and keep up with ever changing technology.
Voice Instead of Keyboard
With a voice assistant, there’s no more complicated software to learn and update; no keyboard, users simply speak. Using voice only, users can:
- have their music played
- get the latest headlines and weather
- listen to their favorite radio stations and podcasts
- have books read to them
- do their shopping
- manage their calendars
- contact family and friends in case of an emergency
- query the Internet for information
- make and receive phone calls
- and much more
Meet Amazon’s “Alexa”
There are several voice assistants on the market, but the Amazon Echo family of products is far and away the most widely used voice assistant with more than 70% market share.
The Echo’s voice is named Alexa.
Once the Echo is connected to your Wi-Fi, you have immediate access to a wide variety of information. For example,
Just say, “Alexa, what are today’s headlines?” Headlines are immediately read to you.
“Alexa, what’s the weather look like for tomorrow?” You’ll get tomorrow’s forecast, or the 10 day forecast if you like.
In addition to all the information immediately available, there are lots of Apps available as well. What you think of as an App on your smartphone or computer, is called a “skill” on the Echo. They’re the same thing. A large number of skills are particularly useful for blind and low vision users. A few examples:
My Buddy Skill
“My Buddy” allows the user to call, text or email any number of designated “buddies” or family members.
If you find yourself in distress and need help, say: “Alexa, my buddy.” Alexa will ask: “Who do you want me to contact?” You reply, “My family.”
Your family can include as many members as you’d like. Do you have 20 members of your family you’d like contacted? All at once? No problem. The call/email/text goes out to all 20 simultaneously.
Shopping by Voice
You can shop from the comfort of your home, using your voice only. Amazon has nearly 500 million products in stock!
Down to your last roll of paper towels? Say, “Alexa, order paper towels.” Alexa will offer a few options, asking for your permission to place the order.
When you hear what you like and confirm, your order is placed. Your order will arrive in a day or two, frequently your order is delivered on the same day.
Would you like to know when your order will be delivered? Just say, “Alexa, where’s my stuff?”. Alexa responds with the day and approximate time your order will be delivered.
“Alexa – Read This!”
Alexa will read books on your Kindle. The books are read to the listener in Alexa’s own computer generated voice.
Amazon owns another electronic book service called Audible. Audible works very well with the Echo family of products. The listener can bookmark particular chapters, fast forward/rewind, pause, adjust volume and summon a different book.
Audible books are read by professional voices. While most Echo skills are free, Audible is not. Audible requires a monthly subscription of $14.99, allowing 2 books a month. More books can be added.
What’s the Next Step?
While the Echo is very easy to use, it can be difficult to set up and configure. That’s where Our Voice comes in, we’re Amazon Echo experts. Our Voice is a company dedicated to making voice assistants available to everyone. Our Voice installs and configures the Echo for the specific needs of the customer. We then train the customer to use device so they get the most out of their voice assistant experience. To learn more about Our Voice, visit www.ourvoice.net or call toll free: 844-voice 13 – 844-864-2313.
Paul Burden is the Founder of Our Voice; a company dedicated to bringing voice technology to the blind and low vision community. Prior to Our Voice, Burden held executive positions at Microsoft, Cyveillance and XAPPmedia. You may contact Paul at www.ourvoice.net.