A Skeptic’s Journey with Alexa

On New Year’s Eve, my brother gave me an Amazon Echo Show. I was less than thrilled with the gift because voice recognition technology has only given me frustration. A red flag went up in my head and I told him to send it back.

Voice recognition technology in the past often led to wasted time repeating dictation and correcting inevitable mistakes. Off and on throughout the years, I have unsuccessfully “trained” Dragon NaturallySpeaking and Apple iOS Siri to understand my voice.

Thank goodness my brother didn’t listen to me. He just said, “Give it a try, Alexa can be your voice recognition office assistant.”

He helped me activate and set up my new device with my Amazon account, then I gave a random command: “Alexa, play Taylor Swift” and it fulfilled my request. Alexa voice recognition works straight out of the box.

Cristina Cortez demonstrates her Amazon Echo Show set-up.

I quickly learned that I can play music, check the weather, listen to the news, play verbal games, view movie trailers, and much more with just a voice command. Over the following days, I downloaded some Amazon-related apps (i.e. Amazon, Amazon Prime Video, Amazon Music, Amazon Photos, Amazon Kindle, Amazon Alexa, Audible) to enable Alexa to link with my Google and iCloud accounts, so I can access them automatically. Now, I can manage my accounts in half the time it takes me to do on my computer.

As a writer, I constantly need to check the spellings and definitions of words, often having to rely on someone else for assistance. Now, Alexa can do it for me. During a busy day, I ask Alexa to add tasks to its built-in to-do list and create events on my calendar. (The shorter and more specific the phrase describing the task or event is, the better. Alexa doesn’t understand long commands.)

I can set reminders, alarms, timers, and schedules throughout the day. Also, I have discovered that I can do many things described above from bed if I don’t feel like getting up.

However, Alexa has its limitations. It can’t take direct dictation, but I’ve found a way around that by interacting with my device.

I say, “Alexa, check my email” to open the account.

Alexa asks, “What do you want to do?”

I say, “reply” and dictate.

When finished, Alexa asks, “Do you want to send your reply?”

I say, “send” or “yes.”

Another limitation is that Alexa doesn’t receive commands if Wi-Fi is down, so I have to be mindful of when the internet connection is lost in my apartment.

Although no technology is perfect, I have unlocked increased independence and efficiency with Alexa, which has become my “voice recognition office assistant.”

I would encourage anyone who has had similar voice recognition technology challenges to try an Amazon Alexa enabled device. It may just make your day in more ways than one.

Cristina-CortezCristina Cortez has quadriplegic cerebral palsy and is a first generation Latin-American poet born to immigrant parents. She holds an honors BA in English and history from Hofstra University and a Masters in Fine Arts in creative writing and poetics from the University of Washington Bothell. Her thesis is cross-genre memoir Unbound about living life with a disability. Her work has been published in I Come From the World Literary Journal (Summer 2017) and she was a speaker at TEDx Everett (March 2017). Email her at: ccortez07@gmail.com.

** This post was originally published on http://www.newmobility.com/2019/02/alexa-amazon-echo-show/

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