Christmas can often involve families gathering around the Christmas tree and decorating it together. Sometimes those experiences can be difficult for Anne, an Amazon customer in Texas and a disabled U.S. Army veteran.
When Anne describes how she spends Christmas with her husband, kids, and grandkids, she mentions that the holiday season can sometimes be a difficult time for her. Anne was medically retired from the military after an accident in 1999. She was injured during her service and became a C4 quadriplegic.
“Everyone’s decorating, I don’t get to have any participation and I have to watch everybody put all the decorations out,” she said.
This year, Anne and her husband, Harry, decided to do something different: They added Alexa-enabled Christmas lights to their tree. So, when Anne asks, “Alexa, turn on Christmas,” the house lights up.
“I’m in charge of the Christmas tree now,” Anne said. “For me, that was huge. That brought tears.”
Spreading holiday joy isn’t the only role Alexa plays in Anne’s home—she has more than 15 Alexa-enabled devices throughout her house. Here are some of her favorite tasks for Alexa:
1.Making her home smarter
One of the most important ways Alexa helps Anne around her home is by making it more accessible.
In the 22 years since her injury, Anne has seen assistive technology grow and change. She said it was difficult to train that early technology to understand her voice.
“All it could do was turn on the TV and turn on a couple lights,” Anne said. “With Alexa, I went from barely anything to having access to everything.”
"[For] my husband, it takes something off his plate. It makes me actually feel like I’m doing something for him, something I used to do before I got hurt,” she said.
Alexa also helps Anne control the thermostat, turn lights on and off throughout her home, and even run the vacuum to keep their home clean.
“With Alexa, whatever different device you want to add, it works,” she said.
2.Keeping her entertained
Alexa’s capacity to read books out loud is what originally drew Anne to the device.
“I can’t pick up a book anymore, and I was an avid reader before, so Audible became a bit of a freedom,” she said.
Prior to Alexa, Anne relied on the library for books on tape, which didn’t provide her with a wide range of titles. With Alexa and Audible, Anne can listen to her favorite books, as well as music on demand, all throughout the house.
Anne also uses a Fire TV cube, which allows her to control the TV with her voice.
“I can turn on the TV and change the channels. Just to have the independence to do what I want, watch what I want, without having to ask, ‘Can you change the channel? Can you turn it up?’ makes every bit of difference.”
3.Staying in touch with her family
Beyond the walls of her home, Anne uses Alexa to stay connected with her family. She can use the Drop In feature to check in on her daughter, Rebecca, and her grandchildren, and during 2020, Anne used Alexa to keep in touch with her mother, who was isolated two hours away.
“Using Alexa for communication, it’s a huge gamechanger because I can’t be there, but I know she’s OK,” Anne said.
Alexa’s communication features are also helpful within her home. Anne said she recently got her wheelchair stuck in the mud in her backyard, and she was able to use the Alexa app on her phone to drop in on her husband in the garage to ask for help.
“I can stay at home by myself now,” she added. “My husband doesn’t have to panic about me, I can get in and out the doors, I can see who is at the door.”
When Anne thinks about the future of accessible technology, she gets excited.
“I’m along for the ride,” she said. “I’m waiting to see what’s next.”
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