Amazon's Alexa Adds Text-to-Speech, Gestures and Captioning Features
The features are available on Echo Show devices and are designed with accessibility in mind.
Abrar Al-HeetiVideo producer / CNET
Abrar Al-Heeti is a video host and producer for CNET, with an interest in internet trends, entertainment, pop culture and digital accessibility. Before joining the video team, she was a writer for CNET's culture team. She graduated with bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Though Illinois is home, she now loves San Francisco -- steep inclines and all.
ExpertiseAbrar has spent her career at CNET breaking down the latest trends on TikTok, Twitter and Instagram, while also reporting on diversity and inclusion initiatives in Hollywood and Silicon Valley.Credentials
Named a Tech Media Trailblazer by the Consumer Technology Association in 2019, a winner of SPJ NorCal's Excellence in Journalism Awards in 2022 and has twice been a finalist in the LA Press Club's National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.
The first, called Gestures, lets users dismiss timers by just raising their hand. If someone doesn't want to speak to Alexa or touch the Echo Show screen because they're cooking, for example, they can just face their palm toward the camera to dismiss a timer. This feature also allows nonverbal customers or those with limited mobility to interact more easily with their device. To turn on Gestures, go to Settings, then Device Options, then Gestures.
Another new feature is text-to-speech, which lets users type out phrases and have them spoken aloud on their Echo Show. This is available via Tap to Alexa, which lets you access Alexa by tapping commands on your Echo Show screen, instead of through voice. Now you can save shortcuts for common phrases like "I'm hungry," which will then be spoken aloud via text-to-speech. This can be useful for people with speech disabilities or who are nonverbal or nonspeaking.
And finally, a Consolidated Captions feature lets you turn on Call Captioning, Closed Captioning and Alexa Captioning at the same time across all supported Echo Show devices. Call Captioning lets you see captions for Alexa calls in real time, while Alexa Captioning shows you captions for Alexa's responses. To turn on Consolidated Captions, swipe down from the top of your Echo Show device to select Settings, then tap Accessibility and choose Captions.
Amazon is one of many tech companies working to make its products and services more accessible. In the last year, Apple has added Live Captions to the iPhone, iPad and Mac to help people follow along with audio and video on FaceTime, video conferencing apps and streaming media. Meanwhile, Google launched a feature on its Pixel 7 phones called Guided Frame that helps blind and low-vision users take selfies. And Comcast unveiled a new TV remote designed with accessibility features, including voice control technology, large backlit buttons and larger font size.
In October, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign spearheaded the Speech Accessibility Project, which aims to make voice recognition technology more useful for people with a range of diverse speech patterns and disabilities. The initiative is supported by Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta and Microsoft.