The Royal National Institute of Blind People has teamed up with tech giant Amazon to make accessing the internet easier for people with sight loss.

The collaboration enables the artificial intelligence (AI) to give information from the RNIB’s Sight Loss Advice Service. The company’s Echo devices featuring the smart assistant Alexa will now give RNIB-verified responses to voice commands such as “Alexa, what should I do if I think I’m losing my sight?”

Amazon hopes that the tool will improve the accessibility for upwards of 2 million people in the UK who are blind or partially sighted. RNIB research found that visual impairments create a large barrier for those who want to access the internet.

The charity claims that nearly two thirds of visually impaired people in the UK find it hard to use new technology, many linking this to accessibility issues. 

Dolly McLoughlin is a fan of using voice assistances at home. The 71-year-old started to lose her sight in her forties, and finds using new technology difficult. She struggles using online web readers as websites are always changing. 

The retired administrative assistant uses an Amazon Echo for a multitude of things. She said: “Alexa is different. I can just ask her questions and she will tell me the answer. It’s fantastic that organisations like RNIB are starting to use it in this way and I hope more companies will follow.”

Dolly enjoys using the Amazon Echo to find answers to queries (RNIB)

Director of Services at RNIB, David Clarke said: “Voice assistant technology is playing an ever-increasing role in transforming the lives of blind and partially sighted people. 

“Voice assistants can enable independence, helping to break down accessibility barriers to a more inclusive society. By using this technology to increase the reach of our own resources, we are ensuring that people can immediately get essential information about sight conditions, their rights, and the support available, simply by asking out loud.”

This is not the first time Amazon has collaborated with a charity on its voice tech. It has also worked with Cancer Research UK and Breast Cancer Care, to name just a few. 

Dennis Stansbury, Alexa UK Country Manager, said: “We love hearing feedback from customers about how they use Alexa throughout their day. We are delighted that customers can now access information from the RNIB website using voice technology.”

Voice tech is just one piece of technology that aims to make life tasks easier for those with visual impairments. An app named Be My Eyes allows members of the public and company representatives to help those with sight loss.

Launched in 2015, the app now has over 3 million volunteers around the world who can aid those needing help, all through their phone. The app connects a visually impaired individual through to one of their volunteers using the device’s camera, and allows the volunteer to help with the task at hand, from helping with their shopping to reading an important letter.

The company recently partnered with Twilio, the cloud communications platform, to use its technology in order to power the app. 

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