Flash briefing 42 – The promise of voice first for the visually or physically impaired

My family has a history with blindness or almost blindness. My uncle has been fighting a disease that he knows is gonna left him blind, soon. One of my best friend is blind. Of all our technological advantages to date, none of them have been particularly helpful for blind or physically impaired. Navigating internet today for my uncle or my friend is a daunting task. Booking flights, a relatively easy task for you or me, is a long process of calls with operators for them. Now imagine how voice applications can change that.

It maybe possible that interaction with Alexa, a machine pretending to be human—especially after missing the evolution of personal computing can be a daunting situation. But every other supposedly obvious technical interface has proved to require some prior knowledge or familiarity. People had to be trained to operate a mouse, for example; direct control of a cursor was awkward until it became habitual. The touch screen built on the mouse, replacing the pointer with the finger. Its accompanying gestures—flicking through a feed or pinch-zooming a map or swiping right on a love interest—have come to feel like second nature. But none of them are actually natural.

Voice assistants appear to bypass that legacy, offering hands-free operation and new accessibility for those with limited mobility or dexterity. Yet they still require expertise. The way most of us talk to the devices has been shaped by our interaction with web and mobile search, making it  query-like. For a person that didn’t live through that at all, it’s foreign language.

Computers and mobile phones are so ubiquitous now, that a life without them is a little more painful and certainly, for professional development, hindering. The smart assistants might seem for some unnecessary, for others a glorified QA speaker, but for those that do not have easy access to texting or web browsing is not only a answering tool but a facilitator. It allow them to communicate in a modern way and connect with people. To live fully means more than sensing with the eyes and ears—it also means engaging with the technologies of the moment, and seeing the world through the triumphs and failures they uniquely offer.

This episode was inspired by a story appeared in The Atlantic about a son recounting his father interaction with Alexa, you can find it in this episode notes at voicefirstweekly.com/flashbriefing.

Thank you for listening!

This post was inspired by the article appeared in the At