Using the Alexa Echo Dot for People who are Blind or Low Vision

Alexa Echo Dot
Alexa Echo Dot

by Assistive Technology Department, Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, Alexander Pooler, Director

Set Up Reminders

There are several ways to set up a reminder with Alexa. Say: “Alexa, create a new reminder,” at this point, Alexa will ask you what the reminder is for. Tell her what it is, such as “go to the dentist,” “start the laundry,” or “begin cooking dinner.” Alexa then asks you for the date and time. You can say something like: “Today at 3 pm,” “Tomorrow at 4 pm,” or “February 11 at 10 am.” You can also give all the reminder details in one shot, like: “Alexa, remind me to go to the dentist.”

You can remind yourself of your reminders at any time. Say: “Alexa, what are my reminders?” and she’ll read them to you. You can also check the Reminders section in the Alexa app to see them. And you can remove a reminder by saying, “Alexa, delete [name of reminder].”

Set Up Alarms

You can set an alarm for a specific day and time. Say: “Alexa, set an alarm.” Alexa asks you for the day and time and then sets the alarm with the details you provide.

You can also include the information in one shot. Say: “Alexa, set an alarm for 10:45 am today” or “Alexa, set an alarm for 8 am tomorrow.”

You can also ask for a recurring alarm to sound off every day, on specific weekdays, or every weekend. Say: “Alexa, set a recurring alarm for 7 am every Monday.”

You can keep track of your alarms by asking Alexa: “Alexa, what are my alarms.” You can also check the Alexa app in the Alarms section to review your existing.  In the app, tap on a specific alarm to alter its time, change its sound, modify its interval, or delete it. You can also delete a specific alarm by saying, “Alexa, delete [time of alarm],” or remove all alarms by saying: “Alexa, delete all alarms.” When the alarm is due, you’ll hear the sound on the Echo device on which you set it. You can tell Alexa: “Alexa, stop” to turn it off or “Alexa, snooze” to postpone the alarm for nine minutes.

Set Timers

You can create a named timer to juggle multiple timers at a time. Say: “Alexa, set an egg timer for 3 minutes” if you’re boiling an egg or “Alexa, set a laundry timer for 30 minutes.” Your timers appear in the Timers section of the Alexa app, where you can pause or cancel the timer or change its volume.

You can also ask Alexa, “Alexa, what are my timers,” and she’ll give you the names and countdowns of your current timers. Further, you can tell Alexa to cancel or pause a specific timer or cancel all timers.

When the countdown hits zero, your Echo device chimes in and tells you the specific timer is done. Say: “Alexa, turn off timer” or just “Alexa, stop” to shut it off.

Create Lists

You can create shopping lists or general to-do lists to help you juggle all the tasks in your life. Say something like: “Alexa, add pick-up milk to my shopping list” or “Alexa, add take the car to the mechanic to my to-do list.” You can then say: “Alexa, what’s on my shopping list” or “Alexa, what’s on my to-do list,” and Alexa rattles off the items on either list. You can tell Alexa to remove a specific item from either list. Further, you can check your shopping and to-do lists in the Alexa app. 

Appointments Calendar

You must set up a calendar in the app’s settings in advance. You can use Google, Apple, Microsoft, etc.

Tap on the navigation menu or tap on settings.  From there, choose Calendar to follow the prompts to set up a calendar.

Managing Events 

  • Alexa, add an event to my calendar. (Alexa will then walk you through event creation).
  • Alexa, add [event] to my calendar for [day] at [time].
  • Alexa, delete my [time] event.
  • Alexa, cancel my [date] event.
  • Alexa, delete [event] from my calendar.
  • Alexa, move my [event name] to [time or date].
  • Alexa, reschedule my [time or date] event to [new time or date].
  • Alexa, schedule a [event name] with [person’s name].
  • Alexa, create a meeting named [event name] with [person’s name].
  • Alexa, invite [person’s name] to [event name].

Checking on Events

  • Alexa, when is my next event?
  • Alexa, what’s on my calendar?
  • Alexa, show me my calendar.
  • Alexa, what’s on my calendar tomorrow at [time]?
  • Alexa, what’s on my calendar on [day]?
  • Alexa, what’s my calendar look like today?

Phone Calls and Messages

To sign up for Alexa communications, including phone calls and text messages, you must have a phone number and the app installed on that phone or Amazon Fire tablet.

To set up, first, open the Alexa app, and select “Communications.”   Then follow the prompts to enter and verify the phone # information.

To make a call from your compatible device, ask Alexa to call the person or contact you want to reach by name.

If there is more than one entry for a person in your contacts list (for example, “home” or “cell”), Alexa asks you to specify which entry to use. Or, if you know the number you want to dial, say each digit (including the area code). 

Here are some examples of things you can say: 

To do this . . . . Say this . . . . 
Make a call to another compatible Echo device Tip: To make calls with your compatible tablet or smartphone, use the Alexa app.“Call [Name’s] Echo.”
Make a call to a mobile or landline number saved to your contacts

“Call [Name’s] mobile.””Call [Name] on his home phone.””Call [Name] at work.””Call [Name’s] office.”


Dial a mobile or landline number


“Call 8-4-4-5-8-2-5-3-9-2.”
Control call volume Tips: For Fire tablets, you can also use the wake word or press the Home button until the blue line appears, then ask Alexa to change the volume. To mute the line on an Echo device during a call, use the Microphone off button on the device. Turn the volume [up / down].”
Hang up / end the call“Hang up.””End call.”

You can send another Alexa user a message by saying something like send Joh Doe a message.  Alexa will ask you to dictate your message, and then it will be sent.

You can also ask Alexa if you have any messages and ask her to read them to you.

Drop In

Drop In lets you start a voice or video call without waiting for the remote party to answer. The feature is intended for use in cases like an elderly parent or perhaps using an Echo as a baby monitor; Amazon also offers fine-grained controls for specifying only certain people who can drop in on you, as well as a blanket control to turn the feature off entirely.

Drop In Permissions

To allow contact to drop in on you from the Alexa app: 

1. Select the Communicate icon. 

2. Select the Contacts icon contacts button. 

3. Scroll down and select the contact you want to allow. 

4. Use the toggle under Drop In to allow or refuse permission to Drop-In for that person.

To initiate Drop-In on an Echo device, you can say “Alexa, drop in on John Smith.” You’ll be asked to confirm the name of the contact before the call initiates. 

To end a call, tap the Hang Up button if you’re on the Alexa app or use an Echo device, say, “Alexa, end call.”

Getting Everyday Information

  • “Alexa, what’s the weather (current conditions, short forecast).” 
  • “Alexa, what’s in the news?” or “Alexa, what’s the traffic like?” 
  • “Alexa, what time is it in [city or country]?”
  • “Alexa, what movies are playing?” 
  • “Alexa, what’s yesterday’s [team name] score?” or “Alexa, when is the next [team name]
  • “Alexa, play [radio station].” Or “Alexa, play [genre]” or “Alexa, play [xxx] from [music service].”
  • “Alexa, who sings this song?” or “Alexa, play that song that goes “Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker, television.” 
  • “Alexa, increase volume” or “Alexa, set volume to 6.”
  • “Alexa, turn this off in [xx minutes].”
  • “Alexa, when is the next [team name] game?”
  • “Alexa, flip a coin.” 
  • “Alexa, how do you make [recipe]?” 
  • “Alexa, how do you spell [word]?”
  • “Alexa, switch accounts” [to change profiles] 
  • “Alexa, open Domino’s skill” [to enable a skill for the first time]
  • “Alexa, make animal noises.”
  • “Alexa, listen to my Audible book,” or “Alexa, Read my Kindle book.”

Flash Briefings

A Flash Briefing is a quick overview of news and other content that you can discover and enable in the Skills section of the Alexa app. Alexa reads text or plays audio content provided by each enabled skill. Flash Briefing’s typically become a regular part of your day.

•Alexa, give me my Flash Briefing

•Alexa, what’s in the news?

•Alexa, next

•Alexa, previous

•Alexa, pause

Local and traffic information

•Alexa, how is traffic?

•Alexa, what’s my commute like?

•Alexa, what restaurants are nearby?

•Alexa, what are the hours for the grocery store?

•Alexa, is the pharmacy open?

•Alexa, what time is the movie, “Rogue One” playing?

Order Products from Amazon

•Alexa, order laundry detergent

•Alexa, buy bathroom tissue

•Alexa, reorder toothpaste

•Alexa, add protein bars to my cart

•Alexa, track my order

•Alexa, where’s my stuff?

•Alexa, order an Echo Dot

Accessing NFB-NEWSLINE through Amazon Alexa

NFB-NEWSLINE subscribers can access NFB-NEWSLINE hands-free on any Amazon Alexa product, including Echo and Echo Dot. Below are some sample commands for accessing and using the skill.

Enable the NFB-NEWSLINE Skill

• Say, “Alexa, open National Federation.”

• To hear instructions about the skill, say, “Alexa, ask National Federation to give me instructions.”

Log in to NFB-NEWSLINE

You will need to log in the first time you open the skill.

• Say, “Alexa, open National Federation.”

• Then say, “Alexa, ask National Federation to log in.”

• State clearly, “Login.”

• Provide your subscriber identification number and security code.

Select Content and Navigate Sections and Articles.

Alexa can help you select and move through publications easily with a variety of commands. Here are a few to get you started:

• “Alexa, ask National Federation to read The New York Times.”

• “Alexa, ask National Federation to read The Wall Street Journal.”

• “Alexa, ask National Federation to read the next section.”

• “Alexa, ask National Federation to go to the previous section.”

• Move from article to article by simply saying “Next” or “Previous.” (Please note: all other commands need to begin with “Alexa ask National Federation.”)

Alter Reader Voice and Speed

• “Alexa, ask National Federation to change the voice.”

• “Alexa, ask National Federation to read a little faster.”

• “Alexa, ask National Federation to read a little slower.”

• “Alexa, ask National Federation to read much faster.”

• “Alexa, ask National Federation to read much slower.”

Save an Article

• “Alexa, ask National Federation to email me this article.”

General Help Command

• “Alexa, ask National Federation to give me instructions.”

Learn more about the Amazon Alexa family of devices and enable the NFB-NEWSLINE Alexa skill today. For more assistance, please call 866-504-7300.

Email

You can use Alexa to check your email. Whether you’re on your morning commute or don’t feel like getting out of bed, Alexa can parse through your inbox for you and read you the highlights.

First, you’ll need to set up your email account in the Alexa app.

1. Open the Alexa app. 

2. Tap the Menu in the top left corner and select Settings. 

3. Select Email and Calendar. 

4. Tap the + button.

5. Select your email provider. 

6. Log in to your email account. 

Now, you can use Alexa to do several things with your account. Here are some things you can try: 

• “Alexa, check my email.” Alexa will respond with a summary of new messages from the last 24 hours. 

• “Alexa, did I get any emails from John?” Alexa will prompt you to set up a one-time notification the next time you get a message from that contact. 

• “Alexa, read/reply to/delete/archive this message.” You can’t yet report an email as spam.

Routines

The step-by-step instructions for creating routines is beyond the scope of this document.  Here is a description of routines to whet your appetite:

Amazon’s Alexa app allows you to create routines, which will turn on smart home devices or get news, traffic, and weather info either at a certain time when you enter a certain location or when you say a specific phrase to an Alexa-enabled device (such as the Echo or Echo Dot). 

In addition to toggling your smart devices and triggering skills, there are several nifty things you can do with Routines:

•Time-limited music: Routine with music can be turned off after “x” minutes 

•Wait actions: Alexa can turn the lights on at the start of your routine and play music 20 minutes later. 

•Announcements: Alexa can send a pre-recorded message to all of your Alexa devices as part of a routine. 

•Notifications: Your routine can send a custom push notification to other household members. 

•Do Not Disturb: Alexa can enable Do Not Disturb for a designated period of time. 

•Stop audio: As part of an “I’m leaving” or “Goodnight” routine, Alexa can stop all of your Echo devices from playing music.

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