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Tap to Alexa makes it easier for deaf community to interact with Amazon assistant

Amazon Echo Show
Image used with permission by copyright holder

It’s been less than a week since the debut of a third-party web app aimed at helping the deaf community communicate with Alexa, and now Amazon is taking matters into its own hands. Beginning July 23, Amazon Echo Show users will find a new “Tap to Alexa” option, and as its name suggests, it’ll allow users to touch the Show’s screen and add customized shortcuts to some of the most useful information Alexa provides, including the weather forecast, news headlines, timers, and more. You can rearrange and edit the shortcuts as you see fit, and if you have a command that lies outside the realm of a quick icon tap, you’ll find a new keyboard option that lets you type a specific Alexa command, eliminating the need to speak (and hear) entirely.

The new feature comes just a few days after Abhishek Singh unveiled a camera-based app that reads and translates sign language into spoken word, and then back again, so that both Alexa and her hearing-impaired users can participate in a conversation. Singh told Fast Company that he hoped that one day, Amazon would better serve the deaf community on its own by having its Echo devices recognize sign language. While this isn’t quite the case yet, the Tap to Alexa option certainly seems to represent a step in the right direction.

Amazon also notes that you can tap in order to trigger Alexa routines, which means that getting the smart assistant to complete multiple actions for you at once is just one touchscreen tap away. For  example, if you say, “Alexa, goodnight,” you can lock your doors, turn down your thermostat, and turn off all the lights  in your home. Thanks to Tap to Alexa, you can simply tap a button on the Echo Show to catalyze the same series of actions. That’s useful not only for the deaf community, but for the otherwise speech-impaired as well.

Turning on Tap to Alexa is relatively straightforward. Simply navigate over to the “Accessibility” section of the Show’s settings, and toggle it to its on position. You can also turn on transcripts for any and all incoming voice messages, as well as on-screen captions for all of Alexa’s responses. That captioning feature has been available in the U.S. for a few months now, but is currently making its way across the ocean to the U.K., Germany, Japan, India, France, Australia, and New Zealand. Canada is also receiving the feature.

While Tap to Alexa is currently only available on the Echo Show, Amazon says that it’s trying to bring it to the smaller Echo Spot, too. There’s no timeline yet on when that might take place, but we’ll be sure to keep you posted.

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Lulu Chang
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