Lately, I’ve been trying out some of the Alexa Skill Blueprints to create custom Amazon Alexa skills, and I was excited to find a skill to customize for navigating my dorm with Amazon Alexa. For many people with visual impairments, it can be helpful to know where to find certain objects or do certain tasks, and having this information available on Amazon Alexa can be a fantastic resource, especially since it is easy to set up Amazon Alexa on college wifi. Here are my tips for how to create a custom skill so Amazon Alexa can help you navigate your dorm or home.
What are Alexa Skill Blueprints?
Alexa Skill Blueprints are a free official Amazon tool that allow users to create their own custom Amazon Alexa skills. There is no coding required and the finished skills are linked to the user’s Amazon account for use across all devices. Creating a skill is as simple as typing in a text box and skills can be customized in a variety of different ways. Information shared with the skill stays private and is not added to the public Amazon Alexa Skill website. Alexa Skill Blueprints require users to have an Amazon Echo device- my personal pick for my college dorm is an Amazon Echo Dot.
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About the Houseguest skill
The Houseguest skill was created so that users could create a custom guide for their home and neighborhood for guests visiting in the area. However, I decided to adapt this skill for use in my college dorm and surrounding area so that I could easily remember how to do different tasks or find contact information with ease. In order to activate the skill, users need to say “Alexa, open My Houseguest Guide” before they can ask any other questions. Users can also customize the skill name in step 3 of the Alexa Blueprint Skill creator- mine is named “Dorm Questions.”
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- Houseguest skill link
Where to find things
After opening the skill blueprint to customize, users are taken to a page with three sections to customize, the first being “Where to find things.” When a user asks the skill “where is the” followed by the item name, Alexa reads the item location and any additional notes. Users must ask Alexa for the specific word listed in order to get the information, so I recommend having synonyms for words listed in this section. It appears that users can add an unlimited number of objects to this area.
- Laundry room is located on the other side of the building near the elevator. I add to the note section to check the laundry website before leaving to ensure there are available machines
- Spare glasses are located in the top drawer of the desk, next to the external batteries
- First aid kit is located on the bathroom cart
- Printer is located in the main lobby next to the large orange couch
- The building is located at insert address here
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How to do things
The second section of the customization menu is for “How to do things.” When a user asks the skill “How do I” followed by the item, Alexa reads the steps for how to do the task followed by any additional notes. Again, it helps to add synonyms for common terms and an unlimited amount of items can be added to the list.
- Sharing instructions for how to do laundry and items to bring to the laundry room
- Adding information about how to access bus schedules or disability transportation services
- Including simple walking directions for adjacent buildings such as the dining hall
- Writing out instructions for accessing campus databases
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The third section of the customization menu is for “Contact info.” When a user asks the skill “contact info for” followed by the item, Alexa reads the name of the person listed and the phone number. Instead of having names listed twice, I decided to include a person or department’s email in the name field and phone number.
- RA email address and phone number
- Campus security phone number, with information duplicated under the names of “police” and “emergency services”
- Disability Services phone number
- Technical support phone numbers
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Other custom settings
In addition to customizing items to ask for, users can also customize how the skill will greet them and what messages will play. For the greeting, I wrote out a summary of how to use the skill and some example prompts to ask for, and repeat this information every time the skill is opened. Users can also customize the exit message for when they are done with the skill, but I chose to make mine simple.
- Greeting- Welcome! To ask for a location, say “where is the blank?” To ask about a task, say “how do I blank?” Lastly, to ask for contact info, say “contact info for blank.”
- Closing- Have a great day!
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How it has helped me
While I didn’t have my Amazon Echo Dot until my sophomore year of college, I love being able to customize this skill with relevant information to help me navigate an unfamiliar space or take away the stress of remembering information. One of my friends frequently used this skill in my dorm to find items they needed to borrow or for helping me when I have a migraine.
I love the fact that I can create a custom skill so Amazon Alexa can help me navigate my dorm or an unfamiliar environment, and think that this would be an amazing transition preparement activity for students with visual impairments heading off to college or for people who are worried about starting a new semester in an unfamiliar place. Have fun creating your new skill!