Amazon is bringing more accessibility features to its Fire tablets — including the new Fire HD 8 and Fire HD 8 Plus announced today — adding support for Tap to Alexa, compatibility with Bluetooth switch access controllers, and launching a new Text to Speech feature.
Tap to Alexa is an accessibility feature that lets you interact with the voice assistant using touch rather than voice. Previously only an option on Echo Show devices (speakers with touchscreens), it’s now available on Amazon’s Fire tablets, eighth-generation or newer, in the US, UK, Germany, and Japan.
With Tap to Alexa enabled, a small “tap” icon sits on the screen that, when tapped, opens a dashboard of common commands. These include Stop, Timer, Alarm, Weather, Traffic, and Joke. Tapping on any of these tiles makes Alexa respond as if you had said the command aloud.
Some are one tap and you’re done (press Joke, and it tells you a joke). Others require more interaction. Tap on Alarm and go through the steps of choosing the time and date on the screen. A Quick Question tile lets you type any request in, and Alexa will respond as if it was said aloud.
It’s also possible to add any specific request as its own tile. For example, to play a favorite TV show, call a friend, or run an Alexa Routine, such as a Goodnight Routine that can lock a smart lock and turn off smart lights.
Designed for customers with speech and / or mobility disabilities, Tap to Alexa coming to portable devices with Alexa on board could make the device helpful to more people. For example, having the feature on a tablet means someone in a wheelchair could mount the tablet on it and have quick access to Alexa commands using touch.
Also new is compatibility with Bluetooth switch access controllers — such as a button, eye blink sensor, or sip puff straw. Combined with Tap to Alexa, switch access controllers make it possible for those with severe mobility disabilities to make Alexa requests directly on a Fire tablet.
For speech-impaired users, Text to Speech on Fire tablets is designed to let a user type out phrases and have them spoken aloud through the tablet. It’s also possible to save shortcut tiles for common phrases, like “I’m hungry.”
Amazon says it worked with the United Spinal Association’s Tech Access Initiative to get feedback on these new features and understand how it could help users with speech and mobility disabilities be more independent.