Tag Archives: Alexa

Our Increasingly Assistive Technology


By Norman G. DeLislethe earth with arrows to things with words The Internet of Things

“The Internet of Things (IoT) is the network of physical objects—devices, vehicles, buildings and other items—embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity that enables these objects to collect and exchange data.” -Wikipedia Article on The Internet of Things

Recently, I’ve noticed an uptick in the attention that the IoT is paying to devices and networking that would be of use to people with disabilities, and the general use that the IoT is increasingly having for everyone, including people with disabilities.

The most obvious example is making driverless cars a reality. And it isn’t simply the goal of totally driverless cars. Each incremental effort by manufacturers to make cars safer by automating safety actions or reducing information and decision burden makes cars easier to use for everyone, including people with disabilities. (See post by M. Catherine McAdam “My Driverless Car“)

There are others. I recently posted a link to a device that uses ultra-small amounts of microwaves to detect glucose levels so that no finger prick is required. In addition, it uses an app to record ongoing glucose levels so that more information about the dynamic of blood sugar is available for use by the person in making short term glucose management decisions and in understanding the long term trend of, say, Type 1 diabetes.

In addition to “things” that increase personal control over health or physical status, there are other potential tools for supporting recovery on the horizon. If the core of the Recovery Movement is the expansion of personal control over life through management of symptoms that reduce control and the building of a personal social network that supports the recovery journey, then the IoT will have “things” to offer us as well.

The use of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is currently only a research tool in depression, pain control, empathy development, and a variety of other issues because (it seems just plain weird) it is expensive to do, and there is no solid framework for understanding what it does. But it is also non-invasive and has predictably short term effects allowing for eventual actual personal control over its use. Is it too strange to envision a genuinely portable device that you could use as a specific method of controlling a specific symptom? Is it even much too “stranger” to imagine a social network of people using TMS as a part of their social interaction?

Although environmental control has been a possibility for people with disabilities for some time, it has traditionally been a very expensive tool requiring the development of highly customized control systems. Now, because of the ubiquity of wireless and smartphones, and the drop in price for small devices that can control house systems (the expansion of the whole consumer market for such devices and environmental control), it is possible to create a voice managed control system using something like the Amazon Echo inside the house and a smartphone app when outside the house. Your personal system can be assembled a bit at a time, allowing you to customize it to your needs as you go.

There is a distinction in disability studies between “accommodation” and “accessibility” which points to the fundamental difference between a community response that creates access (accommodation) for a specific individual (segregation) and one that allows everyone (accessibility) to use the community (inclusion). I think the IoT is beginning to muddy that distinction by making universal access to the community a part of the general development of the IoT and the parallel creation of devices that can be customized by the individual person to connect to that general community. IoT is a trend worth watching by our community. We will also, as always, need members of our community to be at the forefront of making IoT realize the possibility it has for all of us.


  • Internet of Things could be the low-cost ‘connectivity key’ that transforms lives in developing countries
  • Beyond the Hype: These Technologies at CES Can Help People in Need
  • Can the Internet of Things bridge the digital divide?

Talking to Alexa, the Amazon Echo


By MATP Staff Member Catherine McAdam

When Kathryn wrote about the Amazon Echo a few months ago: Getting to Know Alexa: Amazon Echo, I was interested in trying it. I was still hesitant to buy it though, as I’ve found Amazon’s history with accessibility to be quite mixed. (See this article about the Kindle.)  But then I listened to the Tek Talk Review for blind users and was enchanted!

Tek Talk Features Chris Grabowski, The Amazon Echo, What it is and how can I use it? Hosted on Amazon EchoMonday, October 26, 2015

So of course, I now own this gadget. I was able to set it up independently using a my computer. There is a tablet/smart phone app too, but the computer app* seems the most accessible.   I suspect this is mainly my own comfort level.

The question of whether this is assistive technology is interesting. This is a mainstream item. However, it was assistive to me. Even to find and play music by particular artist is much easier than going through my CD’s even though many are labeled in Braille.  For many who have recently lost vision this is going to be a joy. The to do list and shopping list also show up on the computer or tablet/smart phone apps for review offering alternative options for “reading” of this information.

I’m sure it won’t be too much a surprise to find out how easy ordering items from Amazon is, but I do have to give Amazon credit for making this so accessible. Included is a set-up called “skills”. Most of these are games and they do work well. If you like trivia and word games then the skills are fun to explore.

If you need a dictionary and spelling of a word you can just ask. For those who have difficulty looking up phone numbers this can be done through a voicing search feature. You should be aware that because you are using speech to text, it’s not perfect; it will still take practice and patience.

I do know many of the tasks outlined here can be done with a mobile device and apps. I’m not as good with my mobile device as many of my friends and this is a much simpler interface. I think for many seniors with low vision who are not computer users this may be a good option. So, many may find this redundant, but for others with low vision or mobility issues it may be a better option.

*Note: The computer app function to add music from your personal MP3 files is completely inaccessible!

We’d like to hear from you!  I’d be interested in knowing if there is a competitive stand alone device.  And, let us know if you’ve tried the environmental controls for lights and other switches!