AT of the Month

Every few months, Maine CITE showcases various Assistive Technologies (AT) that may be of interest to Maine citizens. 

Amazon Echo and Echo Dot

Amazon EchoThe Amazon Echo, and its smaller companion, the Echo Dot were reported to be the most popular Christmas gifts for 2016. No doubt many of these were purchased for and by people with disabilities to be used as assistive technology (AT).

Amazon Echo DotThe attractiveness of these devices as AT is not so much their ability to play music from a variety of free streaming apps like Pandora and iHeartRadio, but their ability to answers questions, read audiobooks and the news, report traffic and weather, give info on local businesses, and provide sports scores and schedules. Even more important is the Echo’s ability to controls lights, switches, and thermostats with compatible and popular smart home devices.

According to North Dakota Assistive author, Trish Floyd, there are some of the additional features making these devices important AT:

  • Using your voice, Echo/Dot can help users can stay productive by doing things like writing grocery and to-do lists.
  • Echo/Dot can help people remember important things by adding events to user’s calendars and through setting timers.
  • Users can order items off from Amazon by using their voice. Gone are the days of asking for rides or trudging through poor weather to get to the store.

The Amazon Echo and Dot have been reviewed by numerous assistive technology professionals and have been a popular topic at recent AT events (see links below). Suffice it to say, people are very excited about this voice-activated, hands-free device which can help many people with disabilities live more independently.

While voice-activated, hands-free devices are nothing new, the Amazon Echo/Dot is mainstream technology and very reasonably priced making it affordable for many. The full-size unit (Echo) retails for about $180 but was on sale at many locations over the holidays. The smaller unit, the Echo Dot retails for $50 and does all the same things as it’s big sister (the only difference is in the size of the speaker).

By the way, there is a third unit in the Echo line called the Amazon Tap. Retailing for about $130, the Tap is basically a battery-powered portable Bluetooth speaker (the Echo and Echo Dot need to plugged into a power source at all times). The Amazon Tap does do everything the Echo does but, to save power, the user must touch the microphone button to turn on the device before giving vocal commands. This requirement alone limits the Amazon Tap’s potential as AT as it is essentially not a hands-free device.

Costs

What’s in the Box

  • Amazon Echo, power adapter/cable (6 ft.), and quick start guide
  • Echo Dot, power adapter (9W), Micro-USB cable, and Quick Start Guide

And what’s not in the box…

  • Both units need to be plugged in at all times. There is a portable battery pack that may be purchase separately ($49.99)
  • If you want to control lights and switches around your home, additional devices and controls will need to be purchased separately.
  • A Voice Remote may also be purchase separately ($29.99) for situations where you are too far from the Echo device or for noisy environments.
  • The Amazon Echo/Dot require a WiFi connection to the internet, additional equipment and connection costs are required.

Demonstrations

A couple of our Maine CITE Partners plan to purchase these units soon to have in their demonstration loan programs

Video

The following video, produced by Assistive Technology Blog, provides an excellent demonstration of the Amazon Echo as an AT device.

Additional Information


Photo credit: Images licensed through Creative Commons by Wikimedia and Guillermo Fernandes

posted 02/15/2017, rev 03/15/2017