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!


What do you think? Let us know!