Amazon skills or Google actions. The concept is the same. An Amazon Alexa skill or Google Home Action is simply a capability of the personal digital assistant built into a Smart Speaker. In this article we will consider the user experience for the visually impaired using two of the popular Smart Speakers’ capabilities, Amazon Alexa Skills and Google Actions.
Physical Description of Amazon Echo and Google Home
We are going to look at two Smart Speakers, Amazon Echo and Google Home. Both are cylindrical devices. The physical dimensions of the Echo are 5.9″” × 3.5″ × 3.5″, and weighs 29.0 oz. Google Home 6” tall and 4 inches in diameter, and its weight is just over a pound, it’s about and includes a single monaural speaker near the base. The Echo’s speaker covers 360 degrees. On the back of Google Home is a single button that will turn the microphone on and off or reset the unit if held down. The Google Home’s volume control is on the top face and controlled by moving finger counter-clockwise around the outer edge of the control face. The Echo speaker has three buttons on top, one to mute the speaker, two for volume high or low. The separate locations of the mute and volume control buttons make Google Home more physically accessible for the blind and low vision.
Setting up and controlling a Smart Speaker
The initial setup of both Amazon and Google’s Smart Speakers includes setting up a required WiFi connection to the internet. A person with low vision can accomplish this using accessibility settings for low vision on a computer and visiting the Amazon Alexa web app or with the Alexa app using with VoiceOver feature on smart phone or tablet. The Google Home smart phone app works with VoiceOver or TalkBack screen reader included on Android devices. Once the initial setup is completed the Smart Speaker requires little or no visual interaction. This makes Smart Speakers ideal digital assistants and user experience for the visually impaired.
Both Amazon Echo and Google Home include physical controls for volume and microphone, functionality replaceable by voice commands. Amazon and Google digital assistants are activated by using a wake word “Alexa” for the Echo speaker and “Hey Google” or “Ok Google” for Google Home speaker. This means that they are always listening, however the speakers can be disabled by voice control but need to be reactivated by physical control buttons on the Speakers.
A Personal Digital Assistant can read to the Visually Impaired
Electronic books and audio books capabilities have opened a world of reading material once limited to those with low vision and blindness.
Amazon Echo smart speakers read books purchased from Audible in the voice of a professional actor or the author themselves. Alexa reads Amazon Kindle books in her own voice which can be slowed down or sped up by voice control. Google Home can read audio books purchased from Google Play store.
Using the YouVersion Bible Skill for Amazon Alexa, one can listen to the Bible, hear the Bible verse of the day by installing the Bible App for Voice, and even listen to daily reading plans picking up where leaving off the day before by linking a YouVersion account to the skill. Bible App for Voice is also available on Google Home without having to install an app. Just start with “Ok Google” followed by the appropriate commands to read several different Bible versions, listen to verse of the day and create customized Bible reading plans.
Skills and Actions create Unlimited possibilities for the Visually Impaired
Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant personal digital assistants currently have tens of thousands of skills each creating unlimited possibilities for the visually impaired and blind to interact audibly with the world. In addition to listening to audio books, Alexa and Google Assistant’s capabilities include interacting with friends and family, setting timers, alarms and reminders, controlling lighting, shopping, listening to news and weather and playing games just to name a few.