“Ok Google” as Assistive Technology


KathrynBy MATP Staff Member Kathryn Wyeth

I have this powerful assistive technology and haven’t been using it effectively. I noticed my mom was having trouble using her Android phone to make calls. She is losing vision due to a variety of issues including Macular Degeneration.

In researching and playing around with settings on her phone, I realized the Google Now assistant could help.  Google Now is already installed in all Android 4.1 (and above) devices and can be downloaded on Windows Phone and iOS devices too. Setting up Google is simple: Just open the “Google” app and answer a few questions, like your home and work locations, transport means, interests, and so on. (You can skip questions you don’t want to answer.)

screen shot with G in red circle (google icon) and the word "Listening..."First, I needed to move the Google app to her home page, since it wasn’t there. She still wants to lock the phone, so does need to unlock it first, but now can just say “Ok Google” followed by what she wants the app to do.

So calling people was the first issue. Now she can just say, “Ok Google” then the person’s name as it is listed in her contact. Of course, the contacts were a bit of a mess, with multiple listings for some of the people, so we spent a bit of time cleaning this up.

Then we found this tip: How to set up Google Now Contact Relationships.

Google has updated Google Search (and thus Google Now), adding the ability to recognize commands based on the relation the contact is to you. So for people she calls often, like me, she can now say “Ok Google” then “Call my daughter.” This avoids some potential confusion with multiple contacts who have names that are or sound a like.

The other thing we needed to do was make sure that phone numbers for people who had multiple numbers had descriptions that she could remember. If there is more than one say, Mobile or Home number listed, it could be confusing. So in my listing, we edited the contact, selected “custom” for the phone type and gave it a name she’d remember.

She has more than one son. We set them all up as “Ok Google, ____ is my son”. When she says “Ok Google, Call my son”, the phone lists the first two names or and then she can say the name of one of the other 2 sons if she wanted to call someone else. So not quite as good, but it still works.

Woman with glasses and hat smiling

Mom on 80+ birthday

So I wondered if we could assign nicknames for some of her contacts who had the same or similar sounding names. For example, if there were two Susan’s she might call frequently, one could be “Neighbor”, the other would be “Susan”. This did not work. Only relationship names seemed to work.

The advances in technology are great! Now many things that used to be expensive assistive technology are built-in. Voice input can help everyone, including people with disabilities who either can’t see, manipulate a touch screen, or have better spoken than written literacy. My mom and I have just started the learning curve in using Google Now via voice command. Do you use it? What do you use it for?

Here are some additional resources for using Google Now

  • How to use Google Now
  • The complete list of ‘OK, Google’ commands from CNET
  • Huge cheat sheet tells you everything you can do with Google Now voice commands

One thought on ““Ok Google” as Assistive Technology

  1. Anonymous

    Nice to know that this app is available for iPhones, too. Thanks for sharing. Now, to find the time to play with it.


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