At Vision Australia, a national non-government organisation for the blind and low vision community, a new Alexa program is underway to support older Australians with vision loss to build confidence, independence, and a sense of connection with family and friends.

Through Commonwealth Home Support Program funding, Vision Australia has developed a new Alexa Smart Speaker Program providing Echo smart speakers with Alexa to qualifying clients free of charge. Devices are then coupled with a 12-week educational program where participants quickly learn how Alexa can help them use their voice to access tools for organisation, communication, and connection.

Access to information such as weather and news helps people who are blind or low vision to stay connected, from knowing whether to pack an umbrella when rain is forecast, to staying abreast of local information and events. Closer to home, tools such as kitchen timers, shopping lists and voice reminders, coupled with access to music, radio and podcasts, have helped participants manage their home life.

Vision Australia access technology specialist and Alexa Smart Speaker Program leader, John Clower said, “Just giving away devices isn’t enough. We developed a structured 12-week program to show clients what smart technology could make possible, building capability, but also confidence as friendships were made while the group discovered how Alexa could be useful for them.

“Running the program virtually, we helped participants build the knowledge and skills needed from home, helping them gain the independence Alexa can offer.”

From tech settings and privacy fundamentals to specific device features and Alexa Skills, the program offers both “Alexa 101” and technical support while emphasising peer-to-peer discussions to learn from each other’s smart speaker experiences and use each week. 

Alexa Australia and New Zealand country manager, Kate Burleigh added, “Through the power of voice, Alexa has become an amazing example of how smart voice technology can help blind and low vision Australians; made even more exciting in the impact we’ve been able to create with Vision Australia.

“Having a friendly voice right there when needed is a powerful tool for this community and is inherently personal. Helping Vision Australia to build this program to show Alexa’s value for their community has been a joy, and we’re excited to see it come to life.”