A New Twist on Applying Voice Assistants

Featured Image: 
Speech bubble with the text, "Alexa, text John."

Voice-activated assistants, such as Amazon Alexa or Google Home, are being integrated into our homes and lives. These are mainstream devices which respond to spoken commands.  Through voice interaction, Amazon Alexa (launched in 2014) or Google Home (launched in 2016) can playback music, make to-do lists, set alarms, stream podcasts, play audiobooks, provide weather, traffic and other real-time information and news, can control smart devices and currently has over 5,000 third-party skills or apps.

Over 44 million Amazon Alexa and Google Home devices have been sold (January 2018). These devices are integrated into homes and life-styles. There are numerous articles and YouTube videos about how these devices are being used by people with disabilities, including students and adults who are visually impaired or blind.

In the article, Alexa is a Revelation for the Blind, the author shares how Alexa 'facilitates independence of connection' by allowing a senior citizen who has lost his vision to keep current with the world and to communicate with family members and friends through Alexa. As an educator I wonder how voice assistants can be used to help students connect with families and friends outside of school, especially for students who may be unable to communicate or who do not have independent access to a smart phone, tablet or computer. Can students who have multiple disabilities use a voice assistant to communicate with family and friends? Should we be introducing students to voice assistant skills in the classroom?

Interested in reading more about voice assistants on Paths to Technology? Here are a few of the related articles:

6 Ways Amazon Alexa can Help with Homework

Amazon Alexa for People with Disabilities

How Alexa can Help You Sleep