Accessibility & Technology

Smart Speakers You Ask They Answer

Feb 16, 2018

Smart Speakers You Ask They Answer

It should come as no surprise that the voice-activated smart speaker is a favorite technology product for people with vision loss. Finally, a talking technology that is truly uncomplicated and incredibly intelligent.

If you don’t yet have one, chances are you soon will.  The smart speaker was the gift to get this past holiday. Amazon dominated the surge in sales, selling “tens of millions” of Echo speakers during the season.  Google held the number two position, reporting they sold a Google Home speaker every second from mid-October through December, which calculates to over 7 million purchased. 

The voice-enabled technology is powered by artificial intelligence, also called virtual assistants and known by the names Alexa, Google, and Siri. From the earliest stages of development, this smart voice-controlled technology has been a dream come true for people who are visually impaired. It really makes life a little easier.

The speakers are available in a range of prices from $50 to $390, depending on the size and audio quality. The functionality of Alexa and Google is consistent in all sized speakers. Apple is just beginning to deliver its own smart speaker, Home Pod at $349. A woofer, custom amplifier, and 7 tweeters are expected to provide a highly superior sound, but it’s intelligent assistant, Siri, ranks a distant third behind Alexa and Google. 

Amazon Echo Dot. Credit: Time

Amazon Echo Dot. Credit: Time

Amazon announced they will reallocate company resources to maximize the Echo Alexa business. Google and Apple will do their best to elevate their assistants to try and outdo Alexa. We’ll see plenty more competition from the likes of Microsoft, Samsung, LG, and others. That means more choices and even better technology to come.

The thrill of turning on the lights with your voice is here for the asking. The speaker can become the hub for your smart home. Wifi connected outlets make upgrades easy to execute and there are thousands of Alexa, Google, and Siri compatible products on the market already.

Here are just some of the things you can do with your smart speaker:

  • Play music by artist, song, album or genre
  • Get the news
  • Set a timer or an alarm
  • Listen to popular podcasts or radio
  • Find a TV program
  • Get calendar events and reminders
  • Get weather, traffic, travel and flight information
  • Turn on the lights
  • Check the dictionary for spelling and definitions
  • Control the thermostat
  • Play games
  • Calculate simple and complex mathematics
  • Create a shopping list
  • Cook with step by step recipes
  • Answers a multitude of questions
  • Request a Lyft
  • Get stock quotes
  • Find a restaurant or local business
  • Turn on the lights
  • Find out what movies are playing locally

The setup process begins with an app downloaded to your smartphone.  This is exactly where we became acquainted with our first virtual assistant, Siri. Visually impaired iPhone users were delighted to be among the earliest beneficiaries of this accessible technology, and now it’s nice to see everyone else follow. 


Main image credit: Google

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About the Author: Dorrie Rush

Dorrie Rush is the Chief Content Officer and Visual Accessibility Expert at Ophthalmic Edge Patients (OE Patients), an online resource, presented by the Association for Macular Diseases, providing practical information and empowering advice for living a full and successful life with vision loss.

She is the former Director of the Grunwald Technology Center and Information Resource Service at Lighthouse International 2001 to 2016. Dorrie is known to have an eccentric view, which is particularly useful in compensating for her central vision loss from Stargardt Disease.



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