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Two people with disabilities using the assistive technology on a mobile device

Shortly after Simply Accessible became part of the Level Access team*, Kara Van Roekel and I were working with a customer on one of our favorite things: usability testing with people with disabilities. That particular session was with a woman who uses Dragon NaturallySpeaking to work on her computer. She was fairly proficient with Dragon, and was familiar with the types of tasks we were looking for her to complete—I’ll be vague here to protect the identity of our customer, but there were research and contact tasks involved.

If we asked you to picture the woman in your head, what might you describe?

You might assume, just as I did, that she is sitting at her office desk in the spare room in her home, maybe in a wheelchair, maybe not. She is wearing a headset, with the microphone positioned just to the left corner of her mouth.

As the session neared the end, Kara and I talked with her to dig in a little deeper and she told us that she wasn’t having a good day, so she didn’t get out of bed. She was using Dragon on her laptop—which was mounted above her—and she was lying down. Now, that’s not completely unexpected at all, but it was definitely not what I had pictured in my head.

When I asked her what other assistive technologies she used, I thought she might mention some other software-based tools that she uses in conjunction with Dragon. Something like Utter Command (from Kimberley Patch of Redstart Systems) maybe?

Her answer? She got excited as she told us:

“Oh, my best AT is my Amazon Echo! I use it to open the door to my apartment when my caregiver arrives, so that I don’t have to physically go and open the door… and I used it to control all my lights!”

Not at all what I expected, but it makes perfect sense—her Echo uses a Voice UI, just like she’s been using for years with Dragon. The difference? I’ve always thought of the Echo as a cool new piece of technology. I hadn’t really thought of the Echo as an assistive technology, but it very clearly is.

Expand your perspective. Get out of the office. Interact with new people, and you’ll discover things you didn’t expect.

*Derek Featherstone is the Chief Experience Officer at Level Access. Simply Accessible was acquired by Level Access in 2018.