Voice-activated devices: Are there voice-activated devices that may help someone with a number of physical challenges?

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Are there voice-activated devices that may help someone with a number of physical challenges?


My friend is not very mobile and spends a lot of time in her home. Computers are one of the ways she communicates with friends, learns new things and sees the outside world. It is getting more difficult to type one-handed and her computer is very old. There is so much more she could do with voice activation for many things in her home. We'd like to have a plan that would consider what equipment she would need to keep her connected at home now and into the future.

Our answer

Your friend may want to explore a “voice assistant.” These small devices are voice-activated and can perform a variety of actions, from turning on lights and playing music, to sending and receiving emails, text messages, or voice calls.

The British Columbia Association for Individualized Technology and Supports for People with Disabilities (BCITS) works with people who have severe physical disabilities and helps them to live as well and as independently as possible. Specifically, BCITS’s Technology for Independent Living Program (TIL) provides technology to assist with managing electronic devices at home. The program indicates that technologists travel throughout BC assisting the setup of these devices, and will also help individuals through phone support when possible.

With continuous technological developments, addressing physical challenges and remaining connected to friends and family through a voice assistant has become considerably easier. In the last few years, this market has begun to take off – with companies such as Google, Amazon and Apple developing all-in-one devices to help users navigate different tasks through a voice assistant.

This article by Consumers Report – “Which smart speaker is right for you” – provides some of the differences between Google, Amazon and Apple’s voice assistant devices and helps the reader decide which might be the best fit for their home.

To set up a smart home, the user will need to have a smartphone or tablet, reliable Wi-Fi and an account with Google, Amazon or Apple (depending on their device). Please note that these voice assistant devices are deigned to be helpful in numerous ways on their own, but to complete certain specialized tasks the user may require several additional "smart" technologies. These "smart" technologies, such as smart lightbulbs, smart outlets and smart window blinds are often combined together with a voice assistant to create a “smart home.”

These are the three voice assistant devices from Google, Amazon and Apple that you may wish to explore as a voice assistant for your friend:

  • Google smart homes include: the Google Nest Hub (at BestBuy), the Google Nest Mini (at BestBuy) and the Google Nest Audio Smart Speaker (at BestBuy). All three devices come with the OK Google voice assistant. Other than price, the difference between the three devices is geared toward size and sound quality of the device. More information between the devices can be found in this article by TechAdvisor. The article also talks about Google Assistant which you can learn more about in this article by Pocket-lint. Finally, there is also an article by rtings.com that compares the Google Nest Mini with the Google Nest Audio Smart Speaker. The Google Nest Hub costs about $65 (CDN), the Google Nest Mini costs about $50 (CDN) and the Google Nest Audio Smart Speaker Costs about $100 (CDN), plus additional shipping fees if ordered online.

This article from Android Central has an extensive list about which smart devices work on each Google device.

  •  Amazon Echo Dot (at amazon.ca) is one of the more popular devices from Amazon. These devices come equipped with Alexa, Amazon’s voice assistant. Similar to the Google Home and Google Mini, the major differences in the devices are the size of each and the sound and microphone quality. The Echo costs about $70 (CDN).

CNET created a list of devices that work with the Amazon’s voice assistant.

Alexa in Canada is a website dedicated to informing users how to get the most out of their Amazon Alexa device.

  • HomePod Mini (at apple.ca) is the recently released voice assistant from Apple. This device is designed to provide high-quality sound for music, and uses Siri as its voice assistant (the same voice assistant found in other devices from Apple, such as the iPhone). This device costs about $129 (CDN), plus an additional shipping fee.

BestBuy created a webpage to sort smart devices and to sort brand compatibility with each voice assistant.

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