Through innovation, education and collaboration, mainstream technology including voice activated assistants has become more accessible to the blind, deafblind and low vision community, thanks to the organisation and its partners.
Blind Low Vision NZ (BLVNZ) partnered with tech start-up Sonnar to co-create the ‘Library Skill’ for Amazon’s Alexa. In 2020, Blind Low Vision NZ received government funding for 3,500 Alexa units, enabling their members to access their audio library through the smart speaker.
Moving away from a CD service audio library to a voice activation service in the comfort of their own homes, this newly engineered ‘skill’ meant the community could access the audio library faster, easier and better than ever. Liz Ansell, General Manager Client Services at Blind Low Vision NZ adds, “some of our community have mobility issues, so anything that can assist in retaining their independence and social inclusion helps immensely. With the ‘library skill’ Alexa provides ‘more choice’ in reading material than before.”
In addition to the ‘library skill’ members can also access other skills such as information on public transport, weather, recipes, and news. They can also gain extra skills such as; turning on light switches, TVs, appliances and more. However, these capabilities are only if they have the smart technology already in their home.
With the help of Noel Leeming, Blind Low Vision NZ were able to deliver Alexa units more efficiently and cost effectively through their nationwide coverage and buying power. When members were contacted to receive a unit in their homes, they had a choice of online resources to learn about the technology, or they could book a home-visit with one of the Noel Leeming Technicians or Blind Low Vision NZ volunteers. As Nigel Waring, Blind Low Vision NZ’s Head of Technology explains “The project has been a success and we have received great feedback. The training of the Noel Leeming staff in how to engage with our community has also improved our member’s experience.”
“Our team became an extension of their team. They required a tech partner to facilitate the delivery of ‘Alexa’ units, and to educate their members on the new technology. It was a full end-to-end service, from procuring the units, to delivery, installation and training,” adds Janie Brown, Noel Leeming’s Commercial Services Manager, who coordinated the home-visits with Noel Leeming’s technicians. Managing a project during 2020 and 2021 had its own unique challenges. With the country going into lockdown, the restrictions and delays caused by Covid meant the team needed to be agile and more flexible. “Noel Leeming showed dedication and hard work in making this project a success, especially during the lockdowns that caused significant rescheduling of service appointments” highlights Nigel Waring, Head of Technology for Blind Low Vision NZ.