If you are color blind or otherwise have limited vision, you know that indeed the struggle is real when trying to figure out what looks good in the morning. But what if there was a device that allowed someone who is blind or visually impaired to get an idea of how they looked to a sighted person? Such a device could have a major impact on independence, especially for women who are frequently judged more harshly on their appearance.
Amazon just announced a new edition to its Echo line, named the Echo Look, which is set to launch with a price of $200. This time, Echo will come with a camera capable of taking full-length photos and videos of the user, using only voice activation. There are no displays built directly into the device. The built-in camera can blur any background in the photo, so you get a clear shot only of what is the central point—the individual and their clothes. Once the image is taken, users can use the new Style Check feature being offered at no cost to have their outfit evaluated based on current trends in fashion. Users will also be able to connect to an app on their smartphone to interact with the photograph to send to family and friends.
Overall, that is what tech reviewers are saying about the product. If you’re into fashion it does fashion stuff. However, it has an understated potential for people who are blind who are currently stuck with overpriced, underperforming fringe market products to evaluate their wardrobes.
First off, the fact that Echo products are overall accessible to blind users, is a huge bonus. Since there will be no screen on the Echo Look, one will only need use their voice to give Alexa, Amazon’s version of Siri, a command and she will do it. Echo devices can be used for finding out the weather, read the news aloud, play games with friends, and have access to audiobooks on audible. Echo Look will have these abilities as well, which even without the camera, makes it a valuable tool for people who are blind and visually impaired.
To be useful for blind users, Echo Look will need to have a way of auditorily telling users when they are within the field for the camera. But, as previously stated, since it has no screen, it’s a safe assumption that it will have a way of doing this. What might trip accessibility up is what it does after the user tells Alexa, “Alexa, take a picture.”
If it then requires the user to go to their smartphone and use the app, there is no guarantee that the app will be accessible with screen reading technology. Now, we can say that since other amazon apps are decently accessible, this one should be as well. However, companies occasionally forget about accessibility with screen readers once images enter the mix.
The Style Check feature might also prove to be a sticking point for anyone hoping for a fully usable product. A visually impaired or color blind user will want to know what colors they are wearing and if those colors clash. For users who are blind, a feature that informs them about any images or patterns on clothing would be invaluable. A call to amazon told me that right now you can ask Alexa, “Alexa, do a style check.” And using Style Check’s algorithms, she will say, “You look great today!” or if you look frumpy, but not necessarily give detailed information about what you’re wearing.
Echo Look will have a cool, and underestimated, feature that will open up a new shopping avenue for blind and visually impaired shoppers. Buying clothes as a blind person is tedious and frustrating, and you’re never quite sure what you’ll come home with because your shopping companion will influence clothing choices. Echo Look will eliminate this outside influence! Using the phone app and the image, users will be able to say, “Alexa, recommend some clothing brands” and she’ll come back with clothes options similar to what users are wearing.
This device has real potential and possibilities. It is meant to be used entirely without a visual interface, and incorporate the functions of other Echo products. It could prove to be a useful tool for shopping and you can use it to send full body images of your clothes to friends and family—if you still need a real person to weigh in. The Style Check feature will be a bit weak, especially for a totally blind user, but I got the impression from Amazon that with enough nudging they might consider including more features for this demographic.
Unfortunately, this device will not work for anyone who is DeafBlind. It relies entirely on voice and audio, and will not connect to braille devices or hearing equipment. Still, if you either have enough hearing to hear Alexa, or you are a hearing blind person, this product could be very beneficial. Maybe avoid a future wardrobe malfunction at your next job interview?
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