The Amazon Echo add-on that opens up who can use Alexa
While in her second season designing for BBC Two’s the Big Life Fix TV series, Senior Design Strategist, Ruby Steel worked on a project for a woman named Susan living with a progressive form of MS. The nature of her chronic condition means that Susan has limited dexterity in her hands and at times, cognitive impairments – needing help in order to complete even the simplest of tasks. The project required a solution that would enable her to thrive, despite her cognitive and physical limitations.
Through experimenting and prototyping, the team created a personalized voice assistant using two Echo Dots. This “accessibility jacket” created a new pathway for Susan to use voice technology; giving her the time to think, as sometimes she is unable to say the precise command that Alexa needs to hear. Comprised of two Echo Dots, each plays a different role – the first acts as a guided menu navigation system, while the second tells the other Dot exactly what to do. This seemingly complex arrangement became a much smoother way for someone like Susan to interact with Alexa, resolving her biggest hurdles.
The team learned that this approach in “designing for one” can potentially impact many other people who are also excluded from new technologies like voice for a variety of reasons. Ruby says, “Designing for one user with extreme needs has resulted in a product that pushes the boundaries of accessibility in existing voice tech, while inspiring us to think through future applications for those who might experience similar temporary or permanent disabilities.” By taking a mass market tech product and creating a variation of it, the product can become useful for a greater range of people who really need it.