Google Assistant Adds Eye-Tracking Control, Upgrades Action Blocks for Better Accessibility
Google Assistant is integrating into devices and software built by accessible tech developer Tobii Dynavox. The arrangement will add Google Assistant actions to the menu of touch, scan, and gaze-activated tiles on tablets and software platforms built by Tobii Dynavox, offering an alternative to those who may have difficulty with the voice interface. Google will also upgrade its own Action Blocks feature with the aid of Tobii Dynavox, improving the accessibility of Google Assistant more universally.
Tobii Dynavox provides a variety of devices and apps accessible to people with neuromuscular and other disorders. Instead of just a keyboard or voice control, the tiles are designed to be opened by touch or with the use of an eye-tracking camera that determines where the user is looking. Google Assistant is now one of those tiles, with its myriad tools and features embedded within. The voice assistant can be embedded in a Tobii Dynavox device or connected to the Google Home app via its Snap Core First platform for tablets and smart displays. Once set up, someone with movement and speech impairments could use their gaze or touch to get Google Assistant to stream music, turn on smart home devices, or anything else that is usually requested of the voice assistant vocally. The tiles can also be set up with pre-set commands to ask questions about the weather or schedule for the day.
“Our mission is to empower people with disabilities to do what they once did or never thought possible,” Tobii Dynavox CEO Fredrik Ruben said in a statement. “It includes the possibility to communicate, control your surrounding environment and receive the same access to education and information as anyone else. Therefore, we are extremely pleased to enter this partnership with Google and jointly develop technologies that are more accessible to everyone.”
Google Action Blocks, a system for combining pre-set Google Assistant commands and shortcuts into a single button or voice command, will also get a boost from the partnership. The tens of thousands of options in Tobii Dynavox’s Picture Communication Symbols are now available for the Action Blocks, offering a familiar gallery for those who use assistive technology to communicate in other contexts. The Action Blocks can now also be tied directly to a smart device switch or to get a device to say frequently used words and phrases like “excuse me” or “yes.”
Google timed the partnership announcement to coincide with International Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Awareness Month, which makes sense as they extend Google’s ongoing accessibility upgrades. For instance, Google added the ability to read food labels to the Lookout accessibility feature in August and has been adding things like voice cues to Google Maps directions and training voice assistants in Project Euphonia to understand better what people with speech impairments are saying. This summer, U.S. Paralympian and TEDx speaker Garrison Redd partnered with Google to promote ways of using Google Assistant to improve the lives of people with disabilities and suggest new ideas.
“We believe designing for and with people with disabilities means building better products all around,” Google director of accessibility Eve Andersson said in a statement. “Today’s announcements are a few steps forward in the journey to make the world a more inclusive place for people with disabilities.”
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