Echo Echo Echo

Due to my speech impediment, I always thought operating voice controlled smart devices would be beyond me but with the help of coaching from my Speech Therapist, Niamh, it is something I am mastering!

For some time, I have been wriggling into bed on my own and connecting the battery charger to my powered wheelchair by grasping the plug between my feet. I prefer to sleep in the dark but it goes without saying, plugging in a charger is not that easy with the lights off!

In my bed, I used to have a remote-control switch that turned off the light but kept rolling over on to it and breaking it!

Another solution was needed… so I bought an Echo Dot and a smart light to go on my bedside table. I was able to control Alexa using the speech synthesizer on my pc although as that is in the lounge, I had to use the phone app to put the light on a timer so that it went off after I was in bed.

The Echo Dot still gets plenty of use as I enjoy playing music and listening to radio stations on the device. I set up my favourite Alexa commands on my Grid 3 communication software so that the synthesized voice would speak them at the click of a mouse.

With Cerebral Palsy, my body’s motor controls are far from consistent so the time it takes for me to go to the loo, pull off my socks, get into bed and plug in the ‘chair’s charger can vary if I can’t get my limbs to quite do what I want them to. Knowing that my bedside light was on a timer and I would be plunged into darkness if there were significant hitches added to the pressure to the detriment of my co-ordination.

I need to explain at this point that I do not have the dexterity in my fingers to operate a smartphone so I couldn’t take it to bed to turn off the light. I control the ‘phone via a giant toe-operated keyboard that sits in the lounge. As it is attached to the keyboard via a cable, my mobile phone is not very mobile!

If I could use my voice to turn off the light, once I was in bed with my ‘chair on charge then I would be in total control with no pressure from the timer.

I tried saying “Alexa” but the Echo Dot never sprang into life. I don’t think I was getting the “X” right. After some internet searches I discovered that there are 4 “wake up” commands to select from. The one I can say most clearly is “Echo”. To my surprise, the Dot obeyed my command when I said “Echo, turn on my lamp”.

So, I got a second Echo Dot to sit on my bedside table and can have the light on until I’m ready go to sleep – and listen to the news when I wake up in the morning.

At first it was a little hit and miss as to whether I got the response I wanted – early on it could take up to an hour to turn the light off. But I remembered the words of my Speech Therapist who highlighted that I pronounced words far more clearly when I relax and don’t tense my mouth and throat muscles too much. It now takes no more than a few goes to turn the light off.

I also now use my voice rather than the speech synthesizer to control the Echo Dot in the lounge as much as possible – it’s good practice for talking to humans!

You’ll see in this video from when I was first experimenting with using my voice to control the Echo Dot that the second time I try to ask about the weather, I remembered Niamh’s advice and didn’t try quite so hard.

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