Alexa Adds Helpline for Visually Impaired in Britain
Amazon has introduced a new Alexa feature connecting blind and partially sighted users in Britain with services and useful information from the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB). The RNIB Helpline Alexa skill connects to the long-standing call center purely by voice command, instead of requiring going online or dialing a phone.
Anyone in Britain who asks Alexa to call the RNIB Helpline will be patched into the system and be able to talk to an advisor during the operating hours of 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday. The Helpline, which first launched back in 1997, has been of particular use during the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to help keep partially sighted and blind people informed and to reduce loneliness and isolation during lockdowns and quarantines. The organization set up COVID-19 specific services a little over a year ago, partly because many people with visual impairment have trouble using the technology that’s helped maintain connections between people during the pandemic. RNIB’s research found that 54% of those with visual impairments claim it prevents them from using the internet, and 61% said they can’t make use of new technology.
“The RNIB Helpline has played an important role in providing vital support and advice during the last year and will continue to do so as restrictions are eased, and people’s lives change once again,” RNIB head of advice and customer service Jamie Dormandy said. “Maintaining connections with others has been especially important during periods of restrictions and lockdown. Now people will have direct access to help and support via their device. It opens up new possibilities for almost-immediate access to a range of RNIB services including RNIB Talking Books, discussion and support groups, practical and emotional support and advice about everything from social distancing to social media.”
The RNIB has been working with Amazon to make Alexa more accessible to people with visual impairments for a few years. Amazon staff have trained people at the RNIB on how Alexa can the blind and partially sighted, and Amazon even ran an ad in the UK developed with the RNIB to highlight how the voice assistant aids those with limited eyesight. The Helpline is just the latest of the accessibility tools Amazon has created for those with a variety of sensory and movement impairments. For instance, the Show and Tell feature uses Alexa on Echo Show smart displays to identify groceries and other household items, with barcodes added to the list not long after. All of these features are in the Alexa Accessibility Hub that Amazon created, and will likely host future arrangements with the RNIB.
“This is the next step in our collaboration with the RNIB, as part of our ongoing commitment to developing Alexa’s accessibility features,” Alexa country manager Dennis Stansbury said. “The new ‘Alexa Call RNIB Helpline’ calling feature is another great way of helping our blind and partially sighted customers to feel more independent and connected by simply using voice commands.”