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Amazon's Alexa calls attention to Global Accessibility Awareness Day all month long

Alexa's accessibility features are designed to help people with specific needs, but anyone can take advantage of these Amazon Echo shortcuts, tips and tricks.

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Amazon's Alexa has a variety of accessibility features, like Care Hub, which gives caregivers a noninvasive way to check in on those they care for.

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As one of the most popular digital voice assistants worldwide, Amazon's Alexa has transformed the way people access information -- whether that's fun and games, music and entertainment or more personally meaningful stuff like connecting with family and friends. But while Alexa might benefit anyone who uses an Amazon Echo smart speaker, it can play an especially important role in the lives of those with disabilities -- as well as those who care for them.

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What's more, the very same quality-of-life improvements that help people experiencing issues with communication, motor skills or other physical or cognitive disabilities also work for those without such issues. In other words, the accessibility features built into Alexa can help meet everyone's needs, whatever their health.

As Global Accessibility Awareness Day, to which Amazon dedicates the entire month of May, comes to a close, we're taking a look at some of the latest accessibility features Amazon has implemented in its Echo line of smart speakers and displays. Here are a few of our favorite innovations.

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Even a small device, like the Echo Dot, can help people with disabilities communicate with programs like Amazon's Care Hub.

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For those needing minimal care, Amazon's Care Hub fosters independence

Some people need just a little more support than others but are otherwise capable of leading healthy, independent lives. For those who could benefit from some extra support -- occasional check-ins from a caregiver or hands-free ways to call for help -- Amazon created Care Hub.

Care Hub lets caregivers connect with those for whom they care in noninvasive ways, like being able to use Alexa's Drop In feature to check on someone, while also leveraging some of the same conveniences people everywhere use Alexa for every day like reporting the news, playing music or turning on smart lights.

Those interactions and more are logged so caregivers can also check in without disturbing anyone, all while maintaining a level of privacy and autonomy. For example, a caregiver might see that "Entertainment" was played at a certain time, indicating the person is awake and interacting with Alexa. However, specific details about what was played -- song titles, for example -- are not disclosed.

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The new Echo Show 10 swivels on its base and can follow a human face during a video call or while watching a video.

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Setting up Care Hub is a multistep process with many options, but Amazon has a webpage where caregivers and those they care for can be guided through it. Start by clicking the link to Amazon Care Hub here.

Alexa's speech-to-text features make communication easier for everyone

Hearing impairments exist along a wide spectrum, with some people able to hear more or less than others. For those closer to total hearing loss -- or those calling from a noisy environment -- video calls with Alexa have a Call Captioning setting, which transcribes the other caller's speech into written words on the screen in real time -- much like voice dictation software on your phone or computer. Here's how to enable it:

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1. Swipe down from the top of the screen and tap Settings.

2. Scroll down to Accessibility, then slide the Call Captioning toggle to on.

If full-blown dictation seems like overkill, Alexa has a lighter-duty feature called Real Time Text, which is basically a sidebar through which you and the other caller can text-message each other. Here's how to enable it:

1. Swipe down from the top of the screen and tap Settings.

2. Scroll down and tap Accessibility, then scroll to RTT and slide the toggle to on.

3. Read the information page that appears, then tap Enable.

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The new Echo Show 8 uses its 13-megapixel camera to pan and zoom to keep the caller's face in view during video calls.

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Some Amazon smart displays do the moving around so you don't have to

Not everyone can perfectly center themselves in front of a webcam -- and not everyone wants to. Whether experiencing a mobility issue or just getting caught in the middle of a complicated recipe, sometimes it's difficult to still during a video call. But if you're using the latest Echo Show 10 or Echo Show 8 for that call, you can let Alexa worry about tracking you down.

The screen on the Echo Show 10 can swivel to follow you around the room -- your kitchen, say -- when you're on a video call, or even just watching a show on Hulu. That can also mean you don't have to worry about clearing a path or repositioning your Alexa device, whether to make a call or watch a video, if you use a wheelchair or other mobility device.

But let's face it, the Echo Show 10 is a premium device with a price tag to match. For many people, the Echo Show 8 is a more affordable option.

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Even the diminutive Echo Show 5 can be used to identify objects held in front of it.

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It doesn't swivel or move, at least not in a physical sense. But when the new generation comes out in June, its updated 13-megapixel, wide-angle lens lets it do something almost as good -- it can pan and zoom around the frame to keep the speaker centered in the view.

That doesn't help much with watching movies and shows, but it might be a game changer for video calls.

Other fun and useful Alexa accessibility features we like

Aside from some of the more obvious accommodations -- volume controls, brightness settings and the like -- here are some of the less-obvious settings you can use to help make anyone's Alexa experience great:

  • Show and Tell: This feature helps people with vision impairments identify everyday household objects using an Echo Show smart display. Simply hold an object about one foot away from the device's camera and say, "Alexa, what am I holding?" Then, rotate the device around so Alexa can see it from all sides, after she asks.
  • Tap to Alexa: On Amazon Echo Show smart screens, instead of saying "Alexa" out loud, you can tap the screen to summon the voice assistant. To turn on Tap to Alexa, swipe down from the top of the screen, tap Settings, then toggle on Tap to Alexa.
  • Adjust Alexa's speaking rate: Simply ask Alexa to speak either slower or faster, or to return to the default speaking rate to hear Alexa at normal speed.