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Simple Smart Home Automation for the Hearing Impaired

Adding voice control to smart home automation has been a boon. Smart speakers like the Amazon Echo have brought voice controls into millions of homes — but what if you can’t hear what Alexa has to say? What if it’s difficult or impossible for you to talk to her in the first place?

Starting today, Amazon has an answer to those questions. It’s called “Tap to Alexa,” and just as it sounds, it lets owners of the Echo Show touchscreen smart speaker tap on the screen to access customizable shortcuts to common Alexa tricks, including weather, news headlines, timers and more. Users can rearrange those shortcuts as they see fit, or swap them out for other shortcuts based on how they’d like to put Alexa to use. There’s also a new keyboard icon — tap on it, and you’ll be able to type out a specific Alexa command with no need to talk at all.

Smart Home Automation for the Hearing Impaired

Even better: Amazon tells me that you’ll be able to add shortcut buttons that can trigger Alexa Routines, too. Arguably one of Alexa’s best features, Routines are custom Alexa commands that can trigger multiple actions at once. For instance, saying “Alexa, lockdown,” could lock your smart locks, close your smart blinds and turn on your home’s smart lights all at once. With Tap to Alexa, you’ll now be able to trigger those same Routines by tapping a button on the Show’s screen. That’s a nice accessibility upgrade for the speech impaired, and something that the wider Alexa user base might want to make use of, too.

Smart Home Automation for the Hearing Impaired

To turn Tap to Alexa on, just navigate to the updated “Accessibility” section of the Echo Show settings menu and toggle it on. While there, you can also enable transcripts for any incoming voice messages, as well as on-screen captions for everything Alexa says.

For now, Tap to Alexa is exclusive to the Echo Show, but an Amazon spokesperson tells me that the company is working to bring it to the smaller-sized Echo Spot, too. There’s no timetable for that, though, and no word yet on whether or not the feature will also come to always-on Fire tablets docked in Show Mode.