Touchscreens have become the primary way many of us interact with the digital world, but they aren't great options for the visually impaired. Smartphones have small displays and require precise controls, and their screens shut off after a few moments of inactivity, which makes them difficult to use if your vision isn't great. In these instances, a smart speaker is probably a much more useful device.
In a touching new essay for The Atlantic, Ian Bogost describes the experience of teaching his blind father to use Amazon's Echo. There's a bit of a learning curve, like with any new technology, but his dad soon starts asking Alexa for sports scores and stock market updates. He also uses Amazon's voice messaging feature to communicate with his son, as well as another friend who has an Echo at home.
As Bogost describes:
"It doesn't really matter whether Alexa provides Dad with useful knowledge or a seamless way to communicate. It does something more fundamental: It allows him to connect with people and ideas in a contemporary way. To live fully means more than sensing with the eyes and ears — it also means engaging with the technologies of the moment, and seeing the world through the triumphs and failures they uniquely offer."
My own grandfather also dealt with vision impairment for most of his life. He died a few summers ago, before the Amazon Echo was even announced, and I doubt he would have had much interest in a smart speaker. But for plenty of visually impaired people, a smart speaker can serve as a friendly bridge to the internet.
Smart speakers like the Amazon Echo, Google Home, or Apple HomePod make it easy to search the internet for information in a way that most of us take for granted. With a little setup, you can even use Alexa to call an Uber. Smart speakers' digital assistants aren't perfect, but they could give the visually impaired a whole new way to interact with the world.
Alexa Is a Revelation for the Blind [The Atlantic]