On Tuesday 29 March, the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) held its annual See Differently Awards, with Amazon Alexa as the headline sponsor. The awards celebrate people across the UK who dedicate their time, passion and skills to changing the world for the blind and partially sighted community. I attended the awards and delivered a speech which outlined the special relationship between Amazon and RNIB and why making products and services accessible to everyone is important to Amazon. To discover more about the accessibility features of Amazon Devices, visit the Alexa Accessibility Hub. Here is what I said in my speech:
“Good evening. It is an absolute pleasure to be here tonight at this beautiful venue, and surrounded by so many inspirational people. First and foremost, I would like to say a big thank you to the RNIB for putting together this event and for giving us the opportunity to be a part of it. It is an honour for Amazon Alexa to be the Headline Sponsor of the 2022 RNIB See Differently Awards.
Tonight is a very special evening as we come together to celebrate the incredible people across the UK who dedicate their time, passion, and skills to changing the world for the blind and partially sighted community. It has been an unprecedented couple of years for everyone, and the dedication shown by all of tonight’s nominees, to breaking down barriers and supporting the sight loss community is an inspiration to us all. Each and every one of the finalists should feel incredibly proud of their work and what they have achieved. Being in this room tonight makes me feel excited about the future as we continue working together to drive change and improvements for the sight loss community.
When I was a little boy, my great aunt, who was blind, encouraged me to record articles for the local Wirral Talking Newspaper, the Wirral Times. She gave me a blank cassette and sent me on my way! It was a great experience, and it really opened my eyes to the needs of different people. A few years later, when I was on my gap year, I spent lots of time hanging out and playing chess with the teenage son of a colleague, who was blind. Mark was probably the best chess player I’ve ever met! These two early experiences gave me great respect for the sight loss community and make me extra passionate about being here tonight and about the work we are doing at Amazon with the RNIB.
Amazon first started working with the RNIB in 2018 when one of our Alexa team members met an Amazon customer with sight loss who shared how Alexa helps him live a more independent life. They were amazed to hear first hand from this customer, how one of our products - an Echo Dot - had transformed his life. It got the team thinking: How many more customers in the UK, and around the world, could benefit from the independence that Alexa brings? Alexa makes lives simpler, safer, and more fun for all customers, but for many with disabilities, Alexa is much more than that. It was this conversation that sparked the team to reach out to the RNIB to set up a meeting to find out more about the needs of the sight loss community and explore ways in which Amazon might be able to help.
From this first meeting has grown a special relationship between the RNIB and Amazon and our teams have worked closely on some exciting initiatives.
We’ve launched a feature which enables Alexa users to have access to information directly from the RNIB, which means Alexa users can ask things like how to register as sight impaired, request practical tips and information on how to protect eyesight, or ask for advice about supporting someone who is blind or partially sighted. We’ve also launched a feature that enables UK Alexa users to call the RNIB helpline using just their voice. We know thousands of people use this service and being able to access it via voice makes it much more accessible. Customers who need the service can simply say “Alexa, call RNIB Helpline” and during the Helpline opening hours an RNIB advisor will answer calls and offer support to those who need it. Additionally, we’ve launched a feature that enables UK Alexa users to access RNIB Talking Books - a service which revolutionised reading for people with sight loss when it launched in 1935 to help soldiers who had been blinded in the First World War. The Alexa feature
s means that blind or partially sighted people can instantly access thousands of audio books for free by saying, “Alexa, open RNIB Talking Books,” and then choosing a book. For Christmas last year, we launched a feature enabling Alexa users to access the RNIB Letter to Santa service. The RNIB Letter to Santa service is an absolutely brilliant initiative where the elves at RNIB send braille, large print and audio letters from Santa to blind and partially sighted children living across the UK, helping them experience the same magic as full sighted children. Thanks to this new feature on Alexa, thousands more young children with a vision impairment can benefit from the scheme. We also supported the RNIB’s brilliant ‘World Upside Down’ campaign where they organised a takeover of the London’s Piccadilly Circus screens to display upside down images from brands to give a powerful insight into the difficulties of social distancing for blind and partially sighted people. We displayed an image of our Echo Device upside down on one of the big screens, alongside other partners. This was an extremely impactful and compelling campaign by the RNIB and we were proud to be a part of it.”
I also shared a video at the event, featuring a wonderful lady called Samantha, who shares her personal story of how she uses Amazon devices in her everyday life, including one of our special features called ‘Show and Tell’. We are incredibly proud of our Show and Tell feature, which identifies common household products using the camera on Echo Show devices. Customers can simply hold up a product in front of their Echo Show's camera and ask Alexa to identify it. Alexa will tell you what you're holding and provide a brief description. You can watch Samantha’s video below.