I got An Alexa

You Amy be wondering why I’m posting about my purchasing a smart speaker that millions of people already have. There are two reasons for that: I hate Amazon; and I hate being spied on by devices. Sadly, my boycott of Amazon smart speakers has come to an end. Those who follow this blog and podcast may have an idea as to why. If you guessed inaccessibility, you are correct.

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The Backstory

Since I was visiting Desiree for Christmas, Mom, Aunt Barb, and I celebrated our Christmas on Saturday. As always, Mom and Aunt Barb did everything they could to make my life better.

For years I have been complaining about having to exercise in the cold garage. When the temperature is in the 30s outside, it’s only in the 40s in the garage. Honestly, those cold temperatures make it hard to go out there and get my elliptical done.

Among other things Mom and Aunt Barb got me a new wall-mounted heater I could put in the garage. Even better, it is supposed to connect to Apple’s Home Kit. As they worked to install the heater in the garage, I began looking forward to turning on my heater before going out to the garage and exercising in a comfortable garage.

When they got the heater mounted, we tried connecting it to wifi. Even though I was able to get that done, I did so by guessing at what different unlabelled buttons do. The Smart Life app the heater uses is not accessible.

Watching how hard Mom and Aunt Barb were working and knowing how hard it was for Bar, I knew I needed to control my frustration. But I’m not good at hiding my anger and disappointment when I face another inaccessibility challenge.

As the night turned to morning, we were having an impossible time connecting the heater to Home Kit. We tried every QR code. We tried researching possible fixes. Since the app isn’t accessible, I really needed Home Kit to work.

Finally after one, we said we were quitting. Barb went home. Mom went to bed. I grabbed my computer and started researching.

I discovered that the heater can only connect to Home Kit if you install something called Home Bridge. Not knowing if Home Bridge is accessible and realizing I would need to use the command line to install it, I decided it wouldn’t work for me. Since Mom wasn’t yet asleep, I told her the bad news.

As visions of having to Tell Barb it wouldn’t work danced in my head I felt sad. I knew how hard she worked. I saw how much she struggled to help Mom get the garage more comfortable for me.

The idea of watching them having to uninstall the heater and return it hurt my heart. I just couldn’t let that happen.

I started researching Amazon and Google smart speakers. If I was going to get one, I was going to get the right one.

Around four in the morning I settled on an Amazon smart speaker. If I was going to get one of the bad things, I was getting the best one. The truth is Amazon smart speakers simply allow you to do much more than any other smart speaker.

If I was getting an Amazon smart speaker, I was going to see how I could limit its spying as much as possible. I downloaded the Alexa iOS app, set it to not save any recordings, and I limited how long it could store data as much as I could.

Before going to bed, I added some skills to the app and made peace with letting the devil into my house.

It made me so happy when I could finally text Barb and let her know I was able to turn the heater on with Alexa. I did not want her to see her wonderful efforts as a failure.

Notes on Accessibility

Considering whether or not to get an Amazon smart speaker, I had to accept some crappy truths:

  • Way too many apps are inaccessible.
  • Home Kit will never be that good.
  • Amazon smart speakers control way more devices and have more functionality than any other smart speakers.
  • With the lack of accessible apps, the relatively few devices that work with Home Kit, and the reality that using devices would make my life easier, I had to do something.
  • If the Smart Life app was accessible, I would have never gotten an Amazon Smart Speaker.
  • The sad truth is that inaccessibility causes people with disabilities to make decisions we don’t want to make because inaccessibility limits our choices.

Now that Alexa is in my living room, she will never be in my bedroom, I’m glad I have finally bought one. I’m looking forward to seeing how it will make my life a bit easier and what other devices may help me. Most of all, though, I’m glad the work Mom and Barb put in will pay off. Every time I exercise with the heater on and inside the little room of curtains they made me, I will remember their love!

I may face mountains of inaccessibility, but I truly know what it means to be loved. For that, I’m so appreciative and lucky.

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