Amazon’s Echo Show adds more accessibility features, including ‘Gestures’ and text-to-speech • TechCrunch

Amazon today is introducing a small handful of new features for its digital assistant Alexa that aim to make the device more accessible. The company is launching two new ways to interact with Alexa without speaking including support for Gestures on Echo Show devices that will users to interact with the device by raising their hand — something that can also come in handy for anyone using Echo while cooking who wants to quickly dismiss a timer without having to speak. In addition, Amazon is rolling out text-to-speech options and a way to turn on all closed captioning features at once across devices.

The new features are the latest to arrive in a push to make Alexa a more accessible tool, and follow the fall launch of a “Tap to Alexa” option for Fire tablets that allow users to interact with the voice assistant without speaking.

With Gestures, Amazon says users will be able to hold up their hand — palm facing the camera — to dismiss timers on the Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen.) or 10 (3rd Gen) devices. Beyond enabling nonverbal customers to use the device, Amazon also envisions a common scenario where users in the kitchen are cooking while listening to music and don’t want to have to scream over their tunes to be heard by Alexa or touch the screen with messy hands . The gesture could give them an easier way to interact with Alexa, in that case.

Gestures are not enabled by default — you’ll have to visit Settings, then Device Options to access the option. (Presumably, by calling it “Gestures” and not “Gesture,” Amazon has other plans in store for this feature down the road.)

To work, Gestures uses on-device processing to detect the presence of a raised hand during an active timer, Amazon said. Users will not have to enroll in other visual identification features like Visual ID, the Echo Show’s facial recognition system, to use it.

The company is also launching text-to-speech functionality to the new Tap To Alexa feature, which today provides customers with a dashboard of Alexa commands on the Echo’s screen which they can tap to launch. With text-to-speech, customers will now be able to type out phrases on an on-screen keyboard to have them spoken aloud by their Echo Show. These commands can also be saved as shortcut tiles and customized with their own icon and colors.

The feature aims to help customers with speech disabilities, or who are nonverbal or nonspeaking who can use text-to-speech to communicate with others in their home, for example by typing out “I’m hungry.”

Image credits: Amazon

The third new addition is called Consolidated Captions, and allows customers to turn on Call Captioning, Closed Captioning, and Alexa Captions at once across all their supported Echo Show devices. This enables customers to turn on captions for things like Alexa calls and captions for Alexa’s responses, which helps those who are deaf, hard of hearing, or who are using Alexa in loud or noisy environments, Amazon says.

This feature is enabled by tapping Settings, then Accessibility, and selecting “Captions.”

Image credits: Amazon

The new features come at a time when Amazon is trying to determine how to proceed with Alexa, whose division at the company saw significant layoffs and, per an Insider report, is said to be on pace to lose Amazon around $10 billion this year as opportunities to monetize the platform, like voice apps known as Skills, have failed to gain traction with consumers. Alexa owners also tend to only use the device for basic tasks, like playing music, operating smart home devices, using timers and alarms, and getting weather information, among other things.

More recently, Amazon has been positioning its Echo Show devices as more of a family hub or alternative to the kitchen TV. Its wall-mounted Echo Show 15, for example, offers widgets for things like to-do lists and shopping lists and just rolled out Fire TV streaming.

Amazon says the new Echo Show features are rolling out now.