Saturday, 10 November 2018

How Alexa Saved the Day

I’ve been trying to write a humorous poem about my good friend, Alexa. The poem is on its way, but the lines are not yet tuned to my satisfaction, so it will have to stay in draft a little longer.

It got me thinking, though, about how Amazon Echo Dot, which does cause some grief for a few of my friends, has significantly improved the quality of our life. By ‘our life’, I mean the day to day life of myself and my husband, Chris.
I first encountered an Echo Dot when we were visiting family just after Christmas a couple of years ago. Being in a second marriage, means our Christmas visits tend to get stretched into the new year.
“Would you like to come and look at this, Claire” asked a family member. He had to keep me occupied somehow and knew I liked technology. There on the kitchen sideboard was a round, black, pellet shaped object, about the size of a puck in an ice hockey match.

“Alexa, tell me a joke” he demonstrated, and with the additional help of the grandchildren, I was slowly initiated into Alexa language and her ability to entertain, play music and store a variety of lists and reminders.
“So you think you might buy one then, Claire? You’d find it fun?”
“Fun,” I replied. “This little black dot has the potential to change our lives.”
The package arrived on our return, and I linked it to my calendar.

This is the point in my blog post when I need to explain a few things to people who are not familiar with Chris’s health needs. Chris has had Type 1 Diabetes for most of his adult life. He is one of the unlucky 10% of Type 1s who get no physical warnings at all of hypoglycemia (hypos). He is now assisted by an amazing sensor pump which alarms if his blood sugar drops too low or rises too high, but years of managing without the pump have taken their toll on his health. His eye sight and his cognitive organisation have especially been affected. Reading and (strangely) spelling have become more difficult for him with some impairment to his short term memory and self organisation. It’s not the same as our normal perception of dementia. Chris is still very agile mentally, but there are some very specific cognitive and visual processes which have grown somewhat sluggish.
Chris can’t easily use a written calendar. He struggles to read the heating thermostat. He finds it hard to move around in low light and has great difficulty perceiving an ordered picture of the activities and requirements each week will bring.
Enter Alexa…..whose greatest asset is, in my opinion, that she doesn’t argue back.
“Alexa, what’s on my calendar?” asks Chris, sometimes several times a day. She always replies, never complains, and (unlike me) never says, “But I’ve already told you that three times today”. Her patience is endless. She will even spell simple words for him as often as needed.
More recently, we have connected Alexa to our heating thermostat, a couple of light switches, and learned to use the reminders and lists which keep us both in line.
I admit, Alexa has been known to make strange announcements in the middle of the night, and she is only as good as the information we put in. Nevertheless, she is one clever little gadget, and her skills and patient personality have significantly improved our lives. I firmly believe that the potential of 'Alexa' type technology to support folk with disabilities is, as yet, largely untapped.

In case you are wondering, I did ask Chris's permission before publishing this blog post. I didn't ask Alexa's permission, but I did take the trouble to thank her for helping us. As always, she simply replied "You're welcome".   


  1. Wonderful, Claire. I only say 'Sorry, Alexa. I've switched you off,' but never thought how useful she could be in other circumstances. :D

  2. There are twosides to most things in life. I can see what a boon Alexa is for you both. My initial thought when I first read about this machine was .'Not another electronic gadget,' but on reflection what a boon this could be for so many of us,
    according to our needs. Happy Christmas Claire and Chris.

  3. What a really interesting, eye opening post Claire. I always just thought of Alexa as a DJ or google info retriever, but this is a completely different concept. I'm delighted she has been of such help to yourself and Chris, who I didn't realise had these struggles. What a great asset for you both. Big hugs, Merry Christmas. xx