AbilityNet Factsheet - January 2022

How to use a smart speaker to make a home more accessible for disabled people

Smart speakers and connected devices can make your home more accessible if you're a disabled or older person. We explain what devices are available and how to make the most of them.

Last updated: January 2022

1. What are smart speakers?

Some 50% of us own a smart speaker (2021) in the UK, up from 20%. It means we're all become dependent on our tech companion to answer a variety of questions. 

However, by making a smart speaker the hub of a connected home - and connecting it to a variety of connected devices or "Internet of Things" (IoT), you can create a smart home that's more accessible and can help disabled and older people to continue to live independently. 

Smart speakers are connected devices, which you can interact with using voice recognition technology. In addition, they connect to the internet, so you can "ask" them to access various services. 

Examples include the ability to check the weather, access news headlines, add to the shopping list for your online supermarket of choice, and listen to the radio. In addition, some now have screens enabling people to use an intelligent "speaker" to video conference with friends and family.

You can also use a smart speaker to control your home. For example, you can turn lights on and off - and more. 

2. What are the different types of smart speakers?

Amazon and Google are the leading providers of smart speakers - and the best-known.

What smart speakers are available from Amazon?

Amazon's smart speakers have Alexa as the voice assistant, so you "Ask Alexa" when you're looking to perform a task. Amazon now has a suite of products within its Alexa range. These include:

  • Amazon Echo: the basis smart speaker. A small 'orb-shaped device.'
  • Amazon Echo Studio: Amazon's biggest, loudest and most advanced speaker. It offers stereo sound.
  • Amazon Echo Show: The Echo Show is a smart speaker with a built-in screen. 

What smart speakers are available from Google?

Like Amazon, Google has a range of smart speakers that come with Google Assistant. Google speakers use the brand of "Nest". To engage, say, "Hey Google."

  • Nest Mini: The smallest, entry-level version of Google's smart speaker.
  • Nest Audio:  Improved speaker quality over the Mini.
  • Nest Hub: The Nest Hub includes a screen. You can use it for entertainment and video conferencing. You can control it with Quick Gestures (using motion sense) as well as your voice.
  • Net Hub Max: The largest devices with a bigger screen, but the cost is comparable with a mid-priced tablet. 

3. How can smart speakers help disabled people?

A smart speaker is a helpful device for anyone to have in the home. The Voice Assistants mean they are easy to use. Simply say "Alexa" or "Hey Google" to wake up the device. For example, you can say, "Alexa, what is the weather in 'my home town today?

Our Head of Digital Inclusion, Robin Christopherson MBE, is a powerful advocate for smart speakers. Robin, who is blind, runs podcasts on making the most of Alexa.

The voice assistants are an easy way of tapping into podcasts, including Robin's. 

You can also use a smart speaker to control your home by connecting devices. For example, one of our volunteers has helped a woman with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) use a smart speaker to operate her lights. 

Watch a recording of our webinar recording on smart devices

4. What devices can I control using a smart speaker?

There is an increasing number of smart devices you can connect to a network and - in turn - control via your smart speaker. For example, you can buy smart doorbells from companies such as Ring. You can also purchase smart lightbulbs and thermostats. 

Smart light bulbs can cost around £15 each, which is pricier than a standard light bulb. Smart doorbells from established brands such as Ring and Nest cost around £180-£330. Smart thermostats and wireless security cameras often cost £100-£200.

TL Tech, which featured on our FREE webinar, specialises in creating smart homes. The company recommended "smart buttons" to create a smart home. For example, Samsung SmartThings to control individual functions.

You can also buy smart plugs. Once you pair your Alexa or Google device, you can then turn the device that you plug into a smart plug.

A device is either "on or off". So, for example, if you have a bedside light, you could name your device "Bedside light" in the app, and then every time you said "Alexa, turn on bedside light", your light would turn on. Now obviously, if you have two bedside lights, you'd have to set them up as perhaps "Bedside light 1 and 2".

If you want to connect other devices such as security cameras, white goods, heating, and smart door locks to Google Home or Alexa, you'll need to get access to a smart hub such as the Hive hub or Google's Nest hub

You can also use smart technology with your TV, either by buying a smart TV or by using an Amazon Firestick

4. What happens if you have speech difficulties or cannot use your voice at all?

Alexa and Google Home will recognise you if you have impaired speech. It might be slightly harder for the device to understand what you say, but you will get fairly good functionality. If you don't have speech or if your speech is unintelligible, you will need to consider some alternative technology such as computer-controlled environmental controls. 

5. Environmental controls

An environmental control will allow you to control your environment (lights, doors, music) by using a computer or device running specialist software. Examples are Possum's Primo+ device and the controllers made by Abilla. Several NHS departments around the country can advise on the best environmental control for you. We suggest you talk directly to your GP, who can start the referral process.

6. How AbilityNet can help you

My Computer My Way

My Computer My Way is an AbilityNet run website packed with articles explaining how to use the accessibility features built into your computer, tablet, or smartphone. We update the site as new features and changes occur to the Windows, MacOS, iOS, Chrome OS, and Android operating systems. The site has four sections:

  • Vision: computer adjustments to do with vision and colour
  • Hearing: computer adjustments to do with hearing, communication, and speech
  • Motor: computer adjustments to do mobility, stamina, and dexterity
  • Cognitive: computer adjustments to do with attention, learning and memory
Use it for free at mcmw.abilitynet.org.uk

Advice and information

If you have any questions please contact us at AbilityNet and we will do all we can to help.

IT support at Home

If you’re looking for in-person support, you can book a free visit from one of our disclosure-checked volunteers. Many of our volunteers are former IT professionals who give their time to help older people and people with disabilities to use technology to achieve their goals. Our friendly volunteers can help with most major computer systems, laptops, tablet devices and smartphones.

https://abilitynet.org.uk/at-home

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