October 4, 2021

Smart Home Technology Can Help!

- Beth Daisy, Supervisor of Occupational Therapy

a person using an amazon prime voice remote to use the television

Think you don’t need a smart home device?

Well, you might want to rethink your preconceived notions of what a smart home device can do for you! While many people think smart home devices like Amazon’s Echo or Google Home are unnecessary luxuries, for people with vision impairment, they are a great tool for making everyday tasks much easier.

But aren’t they complicated to use?

Well, yes and no. The truth is, initial set-up can be a bit daunting for some people, but once set up, their use is easy. After all, is it “easier” to move a task lamp, get out a magnifier, and strain to read a recipe with difficulty, or is it “easier” to ask your smart home device to give you step-by-step instructions without straining to read? There’s a subjective component in the answer. When you consider that a typical smart home device can eliminate the need for vision for dozens of daily tasks, one may consider that a small investment in learning to use the device might be worth it.
Learning to use a smart home device is easy.

A person does need to remember to use the “wake up” word or phrase such as “Alexa,” “Echo,” “Computer,” Hey Google,” or “Okay Google” before any command or request, but after that, it isn’t too difficult.

At a recent workshop with eight visually impaired seniors (some of whom had used smart home devices and some who hadn’t), they were challenged to come up with as many novel tasks or questions as possible for their smart home device. Almost all of the tasks or questions resulted in an appropriate response from the device, demonstrating that these devices respond much better to natural language than just a few years ago. “Alexa, tell me who’s playing in the Thursday night football game,” and “Alexa, what are the hours for the Rite Aid pharmacy in Hookset,” all generated appropriate responses. The participants commented that to have looked this up through traditional means would have been much more difficult.

Not convinced yet?

Well, here’s just a taste of some of the things a smart home device can do for you all by you using your voice—no vision required!

  • Announce the current time
  • Set a timer
  • Set an alarm
  • Set a recurring reminder (i.e for medications)
  • Generate a shopping list
  • Let you know you have a package outside
  • Make voice-activated phone calls and text messages
  • Tell you an address
  • Tell you hours of operation
  • Give you sports scores
  • Tell you what is on TV
  • Maintain a calendar
  • Read aloud newspapers and periodicals (i.e. NFB Newsline)
  • Reading books – via an Audible subscription
  • Read aloud religious material
  • Tell you the weather- current and forecast, local, or wherever!
  • Provide recipe instructions step by step
  • Play music (Pandora, Spotify, Amazon, etc.)
  • Broadcast podcasts / News (Hardcore History, NPR, The Moth, etc)
  • Play games (Jeopardy, Song quiz, etc.)
  • Make announcements to others
  • Check-in on loved ones (i.e. Drop-in, Care Hub)
  • Find your phone
  • Answer trivia questions
  • Generate sleep Sounds
  • Identify an item (“Alexa, what am I holding?” with camera-enabled devices)
  • Tell jokes
  • Provide guided meditation
  • Provide compliments
  • Tell you how words are spelled
  • Find an address
  • Perform math calculations
  • Call an Uber, Lyft
  • Order a Pizza

And when paired with other smart home devices, you can:

  • Voice control lights (turn them on/off, adjust brightness or color)
  • Voice control a smart thermostat
  • Voice control anything “dumb” with an on/off switch (bed heater, coffee maker, etc…)
  • Act as a security system (Ring doorbell)
  • Cook food (Amazon smart oven, Amazon microwave)
  • Dispense water precisely (Moen smart faucet)
  • Autonomously vacuum/scrub floors/rugs: (i.e.- Roomba and Scooba)

What you need to get started: 

Requirements vary, but generally speaking, at the most basic level, you need a smartphone with the ability to run either the Alexa app or the Google Assistant app. Most people prefer to have a dedicated device in their home equipped with a microphone and a speaker so that even without their phone nearby, they can still interact with the device. The device need not have a camera or a display, but there will be additional functionality built into these devices which won’t be available on other devices (i.e. identifying food items based on appearance or barcode scanning). Finally, Wi-Fi is the glue that binds smart home devices together!

If this sounds like something you think could benefit yourself or someone you know, contact Future In Sight at 603-224-4039 today!