Thomas Bryan, National Technology Advisor, has penned a piece on what a Smart Speaker has meant to him in honour of Global Accessibility Awareness Day, 21 May 2020.

For many in the blind and low vision community we can find accessing information, appliances, goods and services can be quite challenging.  While I can jump online to access information, I don’t always have handy my computer with a screen reader or my mobile phone right beside me. Plus many websites are still not accessible for those using technology such as a screen reader.

However now there is a new revolutionary way to access information with out the need to use a computer or smartphone. In the last few years we have seen the introduction and development of the Smart Speaker opening the doors to information and improving accessibility for all by using one’s voice.

A few years ago, I purchased such a speaker well before they were available in New Zealand. I could see the benefits such a device could bring to our community and set out to work with developers and promote the benefits to our community.

A Smart Speaker is readerly available from appliance and technology outlets.  Due to such devices not being specially designed for the blind, their reasonable price reflects this.

Once set up, you can use your voice to play/listen to your favourite radio station, podcast or music.  You can ask for local weather, time, and phone numbers and much, much more.

At Blind Low Vision NZ, we now have made our library service available so members now have access to all our books, and magazines just by giving a few voice commands. They can sit back and listen to the book of their choice without having to wait for the book to be posted out.

We will see more and more appliances becoming smart appliances and being able to be controlled by your Smart Speaker and so having access to a Smart Speaker will become more and more essential if blind people are to be able to carry out many of the tasks they do today.

In 2018 with the support of the Dr Marjorie Barclay Trust we were fortunate to be able to fit out a room in our Dunedin office to showcase how one could use one’s voice to adjust the heat pump, turn lights on or off, close the blinds and much more.

So we at Blind Low Vision NZ are keen to work with appliance manufacturers, website developers and others to ensure our community is still able to live independently and still use their appliances, access information goods and services.  We are keen to hear from developers so we can together make life more accessible for all.

For me, being able to quickly identify what appointments I have in my diary, set a timer, or just read a book are essential tasks that most of society take for granted.

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to order my groceries, book a flight, find out what’s on in my community all by using my voice and giving a few voice commands. Or check my bank balance, pay a few bills, check when my rates are due, or check when the next bus is due?

We at Blind Low Vision NZ are keen to work with developers to ensure goods and services are accessible for all.