Top 5 Accessibility Benefits of the Amazon Echo

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It seems like every day there is a new fancy device that is the new "must have" because it offers some features that revolutionize how people interact with each other, or helps solve a problem that everyone faces on a day-to-day basis. But often the reasons these devices are "must haves"are based on a standard model of everyday users, and accessibility reviews are made through the eyes of more able-bodied reviewers. Unfortunately what might seem acceptably accessible to these reviewers may not necessarily be the case from the eyes of an actual disabled user.

When I heard about Amazon's new voice assistant Alexa, as an individual with several physical conditions, I bought one as soon as I could afford it. So after a few weeks of use here is my Top 5 Accessibility Benefits of the Amazon Echo.

5. Checking the time and setting alarms.

Now I know what most of you are thinking, "really, you spent that much money just to ask what time it is?" Well actually, yes! As time has gone by my eyesight as gotten pretty poor, and table space next to my bed comes at a premium with my BiPAP, cell phone, iPad, and wires and tubes that come with it all. Apple's Siri lets you set alarms through voice, but to turn it off you have to push through a bunch of menus. For an individual who cannot see, has weak muscles, and no finger dexterity, this is asking quite a bit. So being able to ask "what time is it," or simply say "Alexa stop" to turn off an alarm is a exceptionally beneficial.

4. News and weather.

imagine having a body that could not regulate temperature on its own very well, and the slightest change in temperature could send you into a violent muscle spasm that makes breathing extremely difficult. So being able to ask for the nights low so as to set the right temperature on the thermostat is great. It is just a wonderful start to a day when the temperature is set just right, and the morning news read to you from the built-in NPR app.

3. Playing games with your friends.

As I mentioned earlier, with bad eyesight and poor dexterity, it has gotten very difficult for me to be able to participate in the lot of the fun activities I used to play with family and friends. It has led me to have to memorize a lot of the rules of games like Sorry, or partner with someone who can read to me and move my pieces for me. It can be a real jab to one's sense of independence. One of the awesome features is the ability to enable 'skills', which are apps developers have created for the Amazon Echo platform that include things like puzzles, trivia, and even interactive stories. Being able to play games without the need to read fine print, or move tiny little board pieces and just use the power of voice could be a huge boost in self-confidence for a disabled individual struggling with having fun with their friends.

2. Audiobooks through Audible.

Over the years I had been forced into giving up being able to read some of the great books that are out there because they're either not on Kindle, or worse yet not even available in electronic form. It's also sometimes difficult to have caregivers try and read deep philosophical books with complex words from books like "The Philosophy of Mind." If I can't sleep, or a caregiver is running late, all I have to say is "Alexa, read 'book title'", and I am being read a great title by clear and professional voice actors. All without having to struggle with my iPad or iPhone because asking Siri to do something specific within an app, Apple does not allow.

1. Home automation and security.

There is nothing more demoralizing than feeling like you cannot live independently, and that you will be forced into a facility. Having lights, switches, and thermostats out of reach is a nightmare. Imagine not even being able to lock your front door, and the cost to renovate entire homes could cost thousands of dollars! With the Amazon Echo, combined with smart home hubs, the cost drops down to only couple hundred dollars. In conjunction with Wi-Fi enabled lightbulbs, outlets, thermostats, and deadbolts, your home becomes a voice-enabled powerhouse. Turn on lights with your voice, or even unlock the door by walking/rolling up to it. More ADA professionals need to be made aware of the accessibility of the Amazon Echo, because right now I have to pay out-of-pocket to make my home livable and secure.

So there you have it, that was my Top 5 Accessibility Benefits of the Amazon Echo! Let me know your thoughts and comments below, what other benefits you think the Echo has?

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