Guide dogs get to know a new voice: Alexa
A blind person who stays at The Seeing Eye school (the world’s oldest existing guide dog school, founded in 1929) in Morristown, NJ is only asked to pay a fraction of what it costs to train the dog that changes their life: $1 for military veterans, $150 for anyone else. The school, a nonprofit founded in 1929, covers the rest.
Students get everything they need to spend a comfortable three weeks learning to work with their new guide dog. That means meals, a roundtrip plane ticket from anywhere in America, a dorm room, and – most recently – an Echo to use throughout their stay.
It was Jim Kutsch, The Seeing Eye's CEO, who realized Amazon's voice-controlled personal assistant could help students get through countless challenges. "Once we got an Echo at home, I put that together with the fact that we'd had so many access issues," said Kutsch, who has been blind since he was 16. "Look, a sighted person might just glance at a timer to know there's so many minutes left. With Echo, we can ask without having to go over and pick up a timer, push a button."
A sighted person might just glance at a timer to know there's so many minutes left. With Echo, we can ask without having to go over and pick up a timer, push a button.
Kutsch decided to outfit the entire school with Echo devices, 33 in all. Today, there's an Echo in every individual dorm room, and in all of the school's common areas. Even students who have no experience with the device, soon turn to it for everything from weather forecasts for outdoor classes with the dogs, to music, and even shopping.
Kutsch's wife Ginger, who is also blind, said the Echo is one of the first devices that doesn't make her feel different.
"It's always fun when the device performs in the same way for a blind person or a sighted person," she said. "It brings people together because they have this common device and something they can use as a group."