How to Make Alexa More Accessible for the Visually-Impaired

Accessibility Amazon Alexa Visually Impaired

Whether it’s asking Alexa to announce the date and time or setting alarms and reminders, Amazon’s Alexa can be a useful tool for the visually impaired. Out of the box, Alexa is already an accessible service, but there are some additional accessibility features that you may want to enable and tweaks that can improve your experiences with Amazon’s digital assistance.

In this tutorial, we take a look at five accessibility features for both your Alexa-enabled device and the Alexa mobile app.

1. VoiceOver and TalkBack: Try your device’s built-in screen reader

Regardless of whether you’re an Android or iOS user, there are several ways that you can make the Amazon Alexa app more accessible, including using a screen reader.

If you’re an iOS user, Apple devices come with built-in support for the VoiceOver screen reader. Once VoiceOver is enabled, you can hear an audio description of all onscreen elements by dragging your finger around the screen. VoiceOver will announce each onscreen element as you touch it. When you interact with an element, VoiceOver will surround that element with a black rectangle, providing an additional visual clue for sighted users.

To enable Apple’s VoiceOver screen reader:

1. Launch the “Settings” application.

2. Navigate to “Accessibility -> VoiceOver.”

3. Push the “VoiceOver” slider to the “On” position.

If this is your first experience with VoiceOver, you may want to tap “VoiceOver Practice” and spend some time experimenting with the various gestures.

On Android, the built-in screen reader is TalkBack. To enable TalkBack:

1. Open your device’s “Settings” application.

2. Navigate to “Accessibility -> TalkBack.”

3. Tap to enable “TalkBack.”

TalkBack supports two methods of navigation:

  • Linear navigation – This is where you move through the onscreen elements in a linear sequence by swiping right and left with one finger. TalkBack will describe each element as it comes into focus.
  • Explore by Touch – Alternatively, you can drag your finger around the screen, and TalkBack will describe each element you come into contact with. When TalkBack describes an element you want to interact with, you can select that element by double-tapping anywhere on the screen.

2. Replace visual cues with audio clues

Alexa devices, such as the Echo and Echo Dot, communicate valuable information by displaying a range of colors. However, visually-impaired users may miss this important visual clue and be left wondering whether Alexa has even heard their request.

You can take the guesswork out of interacting with Alexa by playing a sound when she starts processing a request and when she finishes processing a request. By configuring Alexa to provide an audio clue, you can avoid any confusion and make your interactions run more smoothly.

To enable these sounds:

1. Launch the Amazon Alexa app on your smartphone or tablet.

2. Along the bottom of the screen, tap the “Devices” tab.

3. Tap “Echo & Alexa.”

4. Select the device that you want to configure.

5. Tap “Sounds.”

6. Scroll to the “Request Sounds” section and enable the following sliders: “Start of Request” and “End of Request.”

Your Alexa-enabled device can play a sound when it starts processing a request, and when it finishes processing that request.

Your Alexa-enabled device will now play a sound whenever it starts processing a request and play another sound when it finishes processing that request.

3. Own a Spot or Show? Try Amazon’s VoiceView

Do you own an Echo Spot or an Echo Show? These devices come with VoiceView, a built-in screen reader that announces the name of each screen as you move through the Echo user interface. You can also tap any onscreen element, and VoiceView will read that item’s name or text to you.

The Echo Spot and Echo Show devices come with built-in support for the VoiceView screen reader.

To activate VoiceView:

1. On your Echo Spot or Show, swipe down from the top of the screen and then select “Settings.” Alternatively, you can just say: “Go to settings.”

2. Navigate to “Accessibility -> VoiceView Screen Reader.”

3. Tap “VoiceView.”

Alternatively, you can enable VoiceView by pressing the device’s “Microphone/Camera” button. When you hear an alert, place two fingers against the screen and hold for five seconds.

Not a fan of VoiceView? You can disable Amazon’s screen reader at any point:

1. Launch the Echo Spot or Show’s “Settings,” either by swiping from the top of the screen and selecting “Settings” or by saying: “Go to settings.”

2. Navigate to “Accessibility -> VoiceView Screen Reader.”

3. Deselect “VoiceView.”

Alternatively, you can press and hold the “Microphone/Camera” button for five seconds. When you hear an alert, place two fingers against the screen and hold for five seconds.

4. Alexa on mobile: changing the text size

You may find it easier to read the application’s text by increasing the size of the text.

If you’re an iOS user, you can bump up the text size via Apple’s “Accessibility” menu:

1. Launch your iPhone or iPad’s “Settings” application.

2. Navigate to “Accessibility -> Display & Text Size.”

3. Tap “Larger text.”

4. Drag the “Larger Accessibility Sizes” slider into the “On” position.

5. Drag the slider to the right until you’re happy with the text’s appearance.

If you own an Android device, you can either increase just the size of the text or increase the size of all onscreen elements including notifications and the icons on your homescreen.

To increase the text size:

1. Launch your device’s “Settings” application.

2. Tap “Accessibility -> Font size.”

3. To increase the size of the text, drag the slider to the right until you’re happy with the text’s appearance. At the same time, you can also enable the “Increase Contrast” and “Reduce Transparency” options to make onscreen text easier to read.

You may find it easier to interact with the Amazon Alexa mobile app, by altering the text size, and the amount of contrast used.

Alternatively, you may also want to experiment with this menu’s “Smart Invert” and “Classic Invert” settings, which reverses the colors displayed on your device. Color inversion can make text easier for some users to read.

For Android users to increase the size of all onscreen elements:

1. Launch Android’s “Settings” application.

2. Select “Accessibility.”

3. Tap “Display size.”

You can now use the onscreen controls to change your screen resolution until you’re happy with the display. You may also want to experiment with color inversion at “Settings -> Accessibility -> Display -> Color inversion.”

Other than Alexa’s accessibility features mentioned above, do also check out several other Alexa settings that make it more useful. Do you have any more tricks, tips or techniques for making the Alexa experience more accessible? Be sure to share them in the comments below!

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Jessica Thornsby Jessica Thornsby

Jessica Thornsby is a technical writer based in Derbyshire, UK. When she isn’t obsessing over all things tech, she enjoys researching her family tree, and spending far too much time with her house rabbits.

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