I have been using the Amazon Echo Plus for a while now. As a techie, there are many things I like about it. The ability to have speech as the primary means of input to a powerful artificial intelligence is the most exciting part of the whole package if you ask me. Five years ago, it was still in the realm of fantasy to imagine talking to a computer that can learn and think on its own, and yet here we are! One of the key aspects that this brings into focus is the use of technology to improve accessibility. Let us try and look at this
Echo Plus is a hands-free speaker you control with your voice, with a built-in smart home hub. It connects to the Alexa Voice Service to play music, answer questions, provide information, news, sports scores, weather, and more – instantly. All you have to do is ask. The Alexa voice service is a very powerful AI engine and cam easily improve the quality of your life by managing many things for you.
There are so many scenarios where the mere presence of the Echo device adds a new layer of accessibility to any environment. Let me list out a few to explain what I am talking about here. First up let’s talk about someone on a wheelchair, like me. Imagine that I am home alone and in Room A of my home and need to switch on the lights in another room and switch them off in the current room as I move from room to room. With the Echo Plus, it is very easy, I just have to get the right smart lights connected to the respective rooms or use the existing lights plugged into a smart power point and connect them to my Echo device. All I have to do next is simply say “Alexa, Switch of Living room lights ” and follow it up with “Alexa, switch on bedroom lights” and it is done. Without the Echo device, this simple thing is dicey for me as I cannot get up from my wheelchair to reach the switches and when I am home alone, I cannot call anyone else to come and do it for me. I personally got smart lights installed and connected my TV and internet to smart power points, life now is a lot easier for me.
I have a lot of friends who are visually challenged and have a tough time doing things like hailing a cab using Uber or reading new books. The challenge with booking an Uber is that like all apps, the experience is predominantly visual and while there are screen readers on mobiles that do read out the contents, the primary interface is visual and using it is challenging with impaired sight. When they have an Echo device with the Uber skill added, the entire interface is sound driven and the response from the system is all audio. That makes the whole process easy and intuitive for them. Coming to books, while every author wants a braille version of their book to be available, that is very far from reality. The number of titles that are available on braille are less than what is actually required. The Echo devices do a great job of interfacing with the Kindle library and seamlessly read out books at the right pace so that the visually challenged can hear the book comfortably. This makes reading a refreshingly better experience.
And then there are things like listening to news headlines, ordering food and following sporting events or listening to music libraries all in a voice driven interface that makes all these easy for the people with access limitations. So the Echo Plus in particular and the Echo devices in general are very useful in improving accessibility and quality of life for people with disabilities like me.