Amazon’s Alexa Paves the Way for Accessibility Within the Smart Home

2023 has shown further commitment from Amazon to support accessibility efforts in the smart home. With enhanced feature sets, Amazon is leveraging Alexa as a cornerstone across its many devices. From mobility, low vision and hard of hearing, Alexa can assist, making everyday tasks possible.

Recently, iPhone in Canada sat down with Celine Lee, Country Manager for Alexa Canada. During its Alexa & Accessibility event in Toronto, Lee and the Alexa team showcased several current features designed to assist those with disabilities.

For instance, Amazon’s Echo Show devices can act as a hub to connect devices, provide notifications, and support automation. Whether it’s opening blinds, controlling lights, etc., those who require assistance can lean on Alexa from time to time.

Lee also showed off the Fire Tablet’s ability to pair with another device for inputs. This external device can bypass the touch screen, enabling use for those who may have a mobility disability or have low vision. Additionally, the Alexa & Accessibility event brought out Cochlear, which is partnering with Amazon. Customers can pair their hearing aids directly to Fire TV displays, providing low-latency sound when watching a show or movie.

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Speaking with Lee, we discussed those sticking points and how Amazon is working towards addressing those needs. “When we build a product, we think about how can we make this product accessible,” Lee said. “Then we also have another angle, which is, how do we make sure that this product is delightful for a customer with disabilities. That’s really how we approach it. We also ensure that, you know, as we build products, that are helping customers with disabilities that we also have on our team, people who have disabilities.

In addition, Amazon’s Echo Show can act as a smart home hub, offering enhanced connectivity to the Alexa ecosystem. Whether it’s receiving a notification of a delivery, controlling smart lights, or controlling Spotify, devices such as the Echo Show 8 can address those with low vision, mobility disabilities, and more.

This year, we’ve seen Amazon continue to innovate and announce new features to further enhance Alexa’s portfolio when it comes to accessibility. Alongside a new generative AI model, Amazon revealed two new features at its Devices & Services event this year.

Amazon revealed its new Call Translation and Eye Gaze feature. The former is available in Canada and other global markets. Call Translation supports real-time captioning in a multitude of languages during audio and video calls. While being useful for many various users, this feature is also very beneficial to those who are deaf or hard of hearing. It’s available on Echo Show devices and the Alexa app. The latter, however, offers the ability to control Alexa using several preset actions, assisting those with mobility and/or speech disabilities. It is only available in the U.S., the U.K., Germany and Japan.

When on the subject of Eye Gaze coming to Canada, Lee noted, “We’re really excited to continue to make sure that all of the features that are helpful to customers are accessible everywhere as soon as we can.”

Amazon has been working with several organizations and institutes, furthering its investments in accessibility. “One that comes to mind is the Canadian National Institute for the Blind,” Lee states. “We’ve been in discussions trying to find opportunities that could be beneficial for the organization. We also partner with an organization called Connected Canadians, which is focused on seniors.”

For more information on Alexa’s accessibility features and compatible devices, check out Amazon’s Accessibility Hub.

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