How does the Amazon Echo help people with a vision impairment?

Virtual Assistants such as Siri and Cortana who respond to audible commands have been in our phones for a while, but the standalone Amazon Echo gadget heralds the arrival of a new type of device that could be of enormous benefit to many people - in particular, people who have a vision impairment. picture of the Amazon Echo

The Amazon Echo has been on sale in the UK since October 2016. In December, Robin Christopherson MBE, Head of Digital Inclusion at AbilityNet, was given the Echo Dot (a mini version of the Amazon Echo) for his birthday. Find out what Robin thinks of the new button-free, hands-free and eye-free gadget. The Echo is a black column around fifteen inches tall and four inches wide. At around an inch thick, the Amazon Echo Dot is exactly the same as the normal Amazon Echo but with the bottom 90 per cent of the shiny black column (comprising the big bassy speaker) lopped off. The Dot may be smaller, but it still has a great-sounding speaker in there (and it can also be connected via a cable or Bluetooth to a beefier speaker if you wish for a bigger sound) and is a snip at £50 compared to the standard Echo price-tag of £150. There is no screen and the Echo is permanently on. You just talk to the air and the Echo’s voice, known as ‘Alexa’, responds. There are a couple of buttons on the top but these are really never used day-to-day.

What can the Amazon Echo do? It’s probably easier to ask what the Echo can’t do. All you have to do is start your instruction by saying “Alexa” before your question or request. For example, “Alexa, play me a Queen song” or “Alexa, order me some more Toilet Duck” and within a trice you’re listening to your favourite tunes or running to the door. Well ok, perhaps deliveries aren’t that instantaneous but with next-day delivery it’s almost that quick.

Seven things a blind person can ask their Amazon Echo •News: “Alexa, give me the news” - and the news and sports summary you'll hear is updated every hour •Facts: “Alexa, how tall is the Queen?” or “Alexa, tell me a random fact” •Jokes: “Alexa, tell me a joke” and “Alexa, tell me another one” •Timers and alarms: “Alexa, set a timer for three minutes” or “Alexa, wake me up tomorrow at 7am” •Radio: “Alexa, play Radio 4 Extra on TuneIn” or “Alexa, play The Prairie Home Companion station on TuneIn” •Podcasts: “Alexa, play This Week in Tech on TuneIn” or “Alexa, play 99 per cent Invisible on TuneIn” •Books: “Alexa, play Ready Player One on Audible” or “Alexa, play my book" to resume listening.

Join Helping hands for the blind on one of our coffee mornings and have a demo.