Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote - first impressions

Purpose of this post
To share my experiments in devices and software that could improve the quality of life for partially sighted people. I am a programmer with full sight.

A close relative, aged about 80, is recently widowed, and thus no longer has the "eyes" she used to have available 24/7.
She is partially sighted, which in her case I define as not being able to make out numbers on a large remote, even with a very strong illuminated magnifying glass, and therefore relies on touch, relative positioning, and physical anchors.
She has no internet etc experience right now (and therefore no broadband connection), but is prepared to learn.
Cost is a factor. The proprietary screen readers might do their job very well, but they are very expensive. My hope is that the improvements in speech synthesis and speech recognition for the mass market, and the trend towards lower prices, will benefit the blind and partially sighted.
She currently has Sky, largely because of her interest in cricket

First goals
As a partially sighted person, and using her TV as the "content delivery" device, to be able to:
navigate channels on a TV
find programmes by name, wildcard or category
list available movies by name, wildcard or category
list available music by name, wildcard or category

First experiments
I've been reviewing the products from Google, Apple, and Amazon, weighing up their suitability in terms of a) use by an internet/gadget/app newbie, and b) cost
I have excluded Microsoft (Windows) and Apple (MacOS) for now, as that would mean getting to grips with

Comments (8)

dennisaa's picture

Reply to dennisaa by dennisaa

(continuation of the previous post - I am new to this forum - anyone tell me how to edit my own post? any markdown available for emphasis etc?)
...getting to grips with a laptop of some form - not much use for her with the degree of partial sight.
So this is my initial shopping list:
BT broadband with BT sport
I want to see if for her needs she can do without fibre, as that will save a few pounds. BT Sport is £3.50 per month to BT subscribers. That would allow her to ditch the Sky Sport at about £40 per month. She already has a BT line and a subscription that is more expensive that is needed, so maybe an extra £10 per month would get her internet (15mbps is the current estimate), and her beloved cricket. (I'm assuming Channel 4 covers off the other sporting interest of horse racing)
Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote
I have just bought this at £40, and have been playing with it for a few hours, trying to put myself in her place.
Given it is not aimed at specifically at a blind or partially sighted audience, it is fantastic. It has a screen reader option which collapses a bit once it gets into e.g. IPlayer, leaving you not clear where you are. However, I suspect Amazon will improve this as time goes by - I am not clear if the "fault" lies with Amazon or the BBC - while all web content delivered from the UK is legally required to meeting Accessiblity Act requirements, I am sure a lot of public stuff does not.
It is worth buying Amazon Prime at £80 per year (sometimes on offer at £60 per year to new customers): while most people buy it primarily for next-day delivery, for this audience, its real advantage is the fact that it has inclusive movies, music, TV programmes and box sets.
I must emphasise that certainly in the early days or months, if the person with sight challenges has no internet experience, then they need someone with the experience to help set up email and Amazon accounts, broadband, etc.
And I have not yet come to the voice control itself: this works great with UK voices - it understood my wife and I with no training, and the quality of its own voice is excellent.
I will leave it there for now.
If it is not possible to edit, format, provide hyperlinks in these forums, then I may just make this a link to my own blog and perhaps videos.

Please react with your own experiences and thoughts.
Given the influence of the RNIB Brand, it would be great to know they are talking to Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft in the UK. Anyone from RNIB care to comment?
Thanks for reading! :-)

Tim Moderator's picture

Reply to dennisaa by Tim Moderator

Unfortunately at the moment editing is only possible for moderators and there is no support for formatting other than providing links - which happens automatically on posting if you give the full web address (Including the http:// bit to be on the safe side - I haven't tested this without).

Feel free to link to your blog from here though as I'm sure the community will benefit.

-InTheWorldOfTheBlind-'s picture

Reply to Tim Rayner Moderator by -InTheWorldOfTheBlind-

Great to read this.

Just a quick note as to your comment on where the fault lies with the accessibility of the bbciplayer app. Although it looks similar to the iplayer website it is, in fact, an app similar to the apps that run on Android phones (Amazon devices use a cut-down open source version of Android) I don't know where this places it as regards the legal situation regarding online content but in terms of the mechanics of how it works it's a bit more complex. With a website you just have to follow web and accessibility conventions in the way the page is written and any screen reader will automatically read it. An app, however, is a program so getting something that was written to read out the content of all apps on the Kindle is more tricky and would require a conversation between Amazon and the BBC to get it working properly. If you want action on this I think the BBC would be the place to start. They're big on inclusiveness and accessibility and will no doubt talk to Amazon about any issues they come across in making their app more accessible on Amazon devices.

dennisaa's picture

Reply to -InTheWorldOfTheBlind- by dennisaa

Thanks for that. No likely contacts sprung out when I googled e.g. [bbc/accessibility] other than some archived pages. Amongst those was an address [[email protected]] but that bounced.
I guess I could try In Touch. Does anyone have better ideas as I'm fumbling around somewhat for the appropriate contact at the BBC. Failing that, I will just ping these folks:

dennisaa's picture

Reply to Tim Rayner Moderator by dennisaa

Thanks for the reply. Sure, in future I'll write and format on my blog and link from here.

dennisaa's picture

Reply to dennisaa by dennisaa

Hi all
I got a couple of replies back from the BBC, increasingly enthusiastic about an audience for better screen reader capability in IPlayer when running under Fire Stick with Remote. In summary, they will raise it with IPlayer Management but no commitment.
Full content:

"Hello Dennis,

Thanks so much for getting in touch with BBC iPlayer Support.

We appreciate that you have a relative who is visually impaired and uses screen readers and voice control features on their Amazon Firestick when accessing content on this device.

We are sorry to hear that they are unable to use these features to access BBC iPlayer on this device.

At the moment the BBC iPlayer apps on connected TV devices are not compatible with screen reader features but we appreciate your interest in this.

We also take on board demand for voice recognition services and this is something we are also looking into with our developers. More info about our future plans for BBC iPlayer here:

Your comments will be included into our dedicated iPlayer feedback reports which will be sent to BBC iPlayer Management and other relevant teams to help with any future decisions and developments of BBC iPlayer Services.

Hearing from our audiences is greatly important and your comments can be used to improve our services. So your feedback can make a real difference and we appreciate you taking the time to contact us.

Screen readers are compatible when using the BBC iPlayer website on most mobile/tablet devices as well as computers.

We know that this would not be the same as using the Amazon Firestick for your relative, but hope it can be of use in the meantime.

Thanks again for getting in touch.

Kind Regards,

Gearoid McSherry

BBC iPlayer Support Team"

Tim Moderator's picture

Reply to dennisaa by Tim Moderator

Thanks for sending that as well as posting it here and, speaking personally as someone who is VI myself, I have to say that it's a prime example of the principle that asking questions gets results. I hope those results happen soon.

tS1944's picture

Reply to Tim Moderator by tS1944

Hello, This is my first post to any Connect Forum, having joined just today, so I have probably put my post in the wrong place, but it is about THE AMAZON FIRE TV (not fire stick, but fatter and with some more storage). I have just installed the Fire TV, encouraged by the news that some of Amazon Prime's content does at last include some audio described movies and tv series. Indeed I heard a podcast which describes how to set up the fire stick to play AD and assumed that the same technique applies to fire TV. The podcast used "THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE" as the focus and sure enough AD was included. I was therefore disappointed to see that the same content toes not include AD when played through the newer, more powerful and more expensive Fire TV Attempted on-line chat with Amazon failed when they lost the connection and asked me to re-start the process. So I asked Amazon to call me and a very nice lady came on the line, but had little English. Does anyone here own fire TV and managed to access any content with audio description, and if so how did you set it up please? Many thanks in advance.