But it takes work.
For more than a year, I’ve been talking to my mother about getting an Amazon Echo. She has difficulty seeing numbers on the telephone, which makes dialing an adventure. Most of the time she uses pre-programmed two-digit dialing. But family and friends use cell phones now and we have reached the limit on pre-programming the phone. My hope is that assistive technology will solve that problem. (Jump to Lessons Learned)
Getting mom to try something new requires what I call “The drip method.” It basically means introducing an idea or change to her lifestyle in a brief conversation. And then letting go. Many times, she will bring it up herself later or I will mention it again when the time is appropriate.
The initial response to bringing Alexa into the house was not a surprise to me. “No, I don’t want that in my house. I’d never use it.” Then we had the chance to see the technology in action while visiting my aunt. A couple of days later I get the question: “If I ask Alexa what Kevin is doing, will it tell me?” (Kevin is my brother and lives in another state.) “No mom it won’t.” But more than once mom bemoaned not having a phone number in her two-digit system at which point I would explain (again) how having assistive technology in the house could help solve that problem.
Here is where opportunity meets the drip method. A pilot program through the United Way North Jersey Caregiver Coalition had five Amazon Dot’s designated for households that might benefit from using assistive technology in their home. I jumped on the chance to be part of the program.
Mom’s Barriers to Assistive Technology
- “I don’t know where to put it. I’m trying to get rid of stuff not bring more in.”
I came back from a United Way presentation with the Amazon Dot and started telling mom that we were given a dot and had the chance to be part of a three-month trial. She was resistant until I put it in her hands and she could feel how small it was and how easily it would fit on the coffee table.
- “I can’t work the volume.”
While holding the dot, mom realized that there were dials on it that she could feel, but not see. I explained that once we set it up, she would not have to worry about the volume. And that either her caregiver or I could adjust it for her if needed.
- “What will it cost me?”
Because of the trial, we did not pay for the Dot. Because I often work from her house, the WIFI needed for connection is in place and there was no additional cost. And the fact that it was free is why mom said yes to trying it out. “Free? It’s free? Ok, why not.”
- Mom doesn’t have a smartphone, but I do.
Alexa connects to contacts in a smart phone for dialing. It meant I had to add the numbers mom needed to my phone. (See lessons learned). Once you make the connection between your phone and Alexa, the technology automatically updates when you add, delete or change phone numbers in your contacts.
- Before bringing Alexa into mom’s home, I wish I had experience using it. I’m learning while trying to teach her and its confusing. She asks me how to do something and I don’t know the answer, so I go online or experiment. If it doesn’t work right away, the initial reaction is often, “well this doesn’t work.”
- I put mom’s important phone numbers into my phone listed the way she wanted to use it: “Alexa, call Pat’s cell”. The problem is, I had the same phone number (along with address etc.) in my phone under a different contact. Alexa could not find the requested number because it was in there twice. I’ve since redone my contacts.
- The technology can be baffling. I encouraged mom to call someone using Alexa when I was not with her. It didn’t go well, and it wasn’t her fault. The call went through just fine, but the business had voice mail set up so that you had to press one to leave a message. Sigh… Yes, mom picked up her phone and pressed one. Of course, it didn’t work and trying to explain why it didn’t was hard. We have scratched calling that person using Alexa. But now that I think of it, I need to test it to see if SAYING one will work the same way as pressing one. (see point above)
- Alexa uses a female voice. It is at a high enough pitch that mom has difficulty hearing it. I wish Amazon had an app that allowed me to change the voice to a male (Alex?). She has an easier time hearing voices in a lower range.
- Alexa can speak too quickly for mom. Because she has a hard time hearing it, she often must concentrate to understand. I wish we could adjust the timing of her response.
Mom currently only uses Alexa if I am with her because she is afraid of doing something wrong. Every day when I call it’s, “What did you ask Alexa today?” She has become great at asking for the time or weather. She hasn’t mastered asking it to play music – I do that for her. But the other day, without my instructions, she said, “Alexa off” and the music ended allowing her to hear the weather on TV. Yes, she still prefers weather from the TV, because “It gives me more detail,” and she is right.
Mom is now mentioning that an Alexa in the kitchen means she could ask a question without yelling into the other room and she could hear the music better. And I have great hopes for a smart plug that will allow her to turn her favorite living room light on without needing someone else to do it.
I could not get my Samsung Galaxy phone to connect mom’s Amazon Dot to WIFI. Nothing online looked like the screen I was seeing on my phone. Fortunately, someone from the pilot was able to give me a tech support number: 888 283-1829. I have called them multiple times and they are always great, so don’t hesitate to call. You may have to wait for someone, but a live person does answer the phone. Tech support walked me through connecting the Dot to WIFI on my laptop. The good news is their setup is in the cloud, so I can change things without needing to be at mom’s.
I do find looking up tech questions on the internet frustrating. Typically, all I can find is help for an iPhone, which I don’t have.
I tried to determine if Alexa can be changed to “Alex” and I could not. In some instances, it appeared to be possible, but neither my phone nor laptop showed the same options. I called the help desk and they couldn’t figure out how to change it either. It appears that setting up the voice as male is not an option on the Dot. Here is the email response from a different Amazon help desk:
“As of now the option for changing the Alexa voice isn’t available. I apologize for any inconvenience caused in this case. I certainly believe this option would be of great help to our customers if it is available. I presume this feature request to be a significant change in improving the device experience of the users. To ensure this gets reviewed, I am personally filing this information over to our Amazon Echo development team for improvement on the Alexa device experience and hardware capabilities which will improve the experience of using Alexa for all our valued customers.”
We’re in the early stage of our three-month trial. It will be interesting to see where this goes. You’ll hear more about our adventures in future blog posts.
“What is Kevin doing?” may sound like a line straight out of SNL’s “Alexa Silver” parody, but it’s not. It’s part of a conversation I had with my mother about two weeks before the skit ran. A case of art imitating life.
Disclaimer: The material in this blog is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace, nor does it replace, consulting with a physician, lawyer, accountant, financial planner or other qualified professional.