Alexa wants to make things easier for you, and that includes reading print materials. As a user with a vision impairment and a print disability, I can’t read standard print in books, on websites, or in other media- read more about what I have learned about print disabilities here. I purchased the Echo Dot last year as a piece of assistive technology and loved how it could read me information with ease- read my original review of the Amazon Echo Dot here. I was curious to see if Alexa could help me read print materials, and I was pleasantly surprised to find several skills. These skills are useful for everyone, but especially helpful for users with blindness, low vision, vision impairments, learning disabilities, and print disabilities. Here are skills that show how Amazon Alexa can help you read.
Alexa, read from Kindle
This skill will read the most recent book opened in the Kindle library, and start reading from the page that was last opened. Alexa’s voice will read the text, as opposed to another audio recording. It can also start from the beginning of chapters if needed. I tested this skill with a Harry Potter book and found that Alexa pronounced words correctly, for the most part, and it was easy to follow along. The book must support text-to-speech in order for this to work, though so far the only books I have encountered that aren’t supported are my programming textbooks. Read more about my experiences using the Kindle Fire here and using digital textbooks here.
Alexa, read me a bedtime story
When enabled, this skill will read a random story from the Amazon Rapids library for free (more on that in a minute). The stories are read by professional voice actors and rotate often. This skill is targeted at children, but is great for anyone who wants to hear a silly story before bed. When I tested this skill back in December, I got to listen to a seasonally appropriate story about an elf at Christmas time. Read more about how Amazon Alexa can help you sleep here.
Alexa, ask Amazon Storytime to read me a story
By subscribing to Amazon Rapids for $3 a month or $30 a year, users can have access to a library of hundreds of children’s books that can be read across several different apps, and played on the Alexa. This would be great for children that are blind or visually impaired for the descriptive audio alone, and I appreciate that the audio isn’t overly stimulating- no loud or super high pitched noises that could hurt sensitive ears. From what I can tell, the stories in the app are exclusive to Amazon Rapids and are not available as print copies.
Alexa, what’s in the news?
As an alternative to reading the news, users can ask Alexa to deliver a flash briefing from a variety of national and international news sources. This feature is awesome because I don’t have to worry about surprise flashing lights on the news, and the audio comes through clearly. Flash briefings can last anywhere from two to ten minutes, depending on how many sources are enabled. Read more about free accessible apps for the news here.
Alexa, read (title) on Audible
With an Audible subscription, Alexa can play any title in their Audible audiobooks library. Audible is different than the Kindle audiobooks because professional voice actors read the book, as opposed to Alexa’s voice. Users can choose what chapters to start at, fast forward/go backward thirty seconds, and adjust volume. I’m hoping in the future that Amazon will also support other audiobook services- read about library services that provide free audiobooks here.
Alexa, read me a poem
This skill requires access to the Amazon Alexa app, as this skill sends a link to a random poem to the Alexa app. From there, users can open the poem in a web browser and read it using large text or a screen reader if they prefer. The poems are classics, making this a great skill for people taking literature classes or who appreciate poetry.
Alexa, what’s the definition of (a word)?
Using a built-in dictionary, Alexa can look up the definition of any word, though has some difficulty with homonyms and homophones- words that are pronounced the same but mean different things. Alexa can also spell words as well when asked. Read more about how Amazon Alexa can help with homework here.
Alexa, Wikipedia (word)
Alexa can read Wikipedia articles about a variety of topics when asked. I tested this by asking her to read the Wikipedia article about my favorite band, and she read information smoothly and at an easy to follow pace. After that, I asked her to read an article that featured a chemical formula, and that went well too. This feature is especially helpful when settling a debate between friends or family about a certain topic. Just yesterday, my family used this feature at dinner to learn more about a word we had heard on The Weather Channel to describe an incoming snow storm- read more about navigating in the snow with a blindness cane here.
Alexa and Bookshare
Bookshare is an accessible online library for people with print disabilities where books can be downloaded in accessible formats such as EPUB, DAISY, MP3, and more. Previously, I have been able to read Bookshare books by uploading the MP3 files to my Amazon Music Library and having it read the book by asking Alexa to play the file name, but Amazon Music Library is discontinuing its uploading capabilities. At the moment, I am working on finding a workaround so that Bookshare books may be played on the Alexa and will update this section once I figure something out. Read my post on Bookshare here.
I consider the Amazon Echo Dot an essential for people with print disabilities, low vision, and blindness. It has so many functions and more are being added every day. In the future, I hope that Amazon will support adding audiobooks from other sources and reading more books from the Kindle app. However, I love all of the features available now, and how Amazon Alexa can help users read.