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Smart speakers designed for sight loss

British Wireless for the Blind Fund (BWBF) is teaming up with Glasgow Caledonian University to support research into accessible smart speakers for people with sight loss.  

Amazon's Alexa smart speaker
Photo of Amazon’s Alexa smart speaker. BWBF is partnering with Glasgow Caledonian University to try to make smart speakers more accessible.

BWBF provides specially adapted radios, audio devices and apps for people living with sight loss. The charity is supporting a new PhD studentship exploring challenges people with sight loss face when using devices like Alexa. The project will unlock new technological solutions, laying the foundation for better smart speakers for people who are blind or partially sighted. 

Over recent years the public has embraced smart speaker technology, with Amazon’s Alexa fast becoming a household staple. But, despite voice-activated smart technology’s clear potential for people with sight loss, smart speakers remain riddled with accessibility challenges.  

For example, devices can be hard to set up for someone living with sight loss. Some features, such as coloured lights used by speakers, aren’t accessible for someone who can’t see. Smart speakers also lack local information, such as newspaper content. 

BWBF’s technology team will support the project by sharing their experience and introducing the PhD student to people the charity supports. This will ensure that the research gets to the heart of the challenges people with sight loss face, and that the solutions proposed meet their needs.

Helping people with sight loss find connection through smart speakers

David Beard, Head of Technology at BWBF, said:

“We’re really excited to support this project. There’s a gap between what smart speakers can offer most of us, compared to someone who’s blind or partially sighted. As we come to rely on smart speakers more, it’s important the technology doesn’t leave people with sight loss behind.  

“At BWBF we’ve seen, through years of experience, how accessible audio technology can be truly life-changing. The right technology can help someone break through the isolation that sight loss can bring, and connect with the world. I am looking forward to seeing what innovations emerge.” 

Dr Ryan Gibson, Senior Lecturer in Computing at Glasgow Caledonian University, said:

“We are delighted with BWBF’s support for the project. Sight loss is a very important issue to society. Current speaker technology solutions are not designed to truly support and provide aid to those with sight loss.” 

“We have created a fantastic team at Glasgow Caledonian University and are seeking to provide real-world meaningful impact for those with sight loss.” 

The team working on the project at Glasgow Caledonian University is led by Dr Ryan Gibson and brings together Dr Katie Thomson and Dr Sven Jonuscheit to combine technology solutions with occupational therapy and vision science knowledge. They will support PhD student Indra Hidayatulloh.