Voice Activated printing: Using Alexa to print and scan

Smart speakers have opened up new opportunities for visually impaired people to maintain their independence. With the growing number of smart devices available on the market, visually impaired people are able to control previously inaccessible, or partially accessible, devices with their smartphone, smart speaker and voice.

Smart speakers can now be used to print and scan documents. Richard from our Digital Enablement Team investigated using Alexa to operate his HP printer. Find out how he got on, and how useful he thinks this could be for a visually impaired person:

Linking my printer to Alexa

An email from my printer manufacturer titled, ‘Say hello to voice activated printing,’ grabbed my attention. I had to investigate!

The email went on to say:

“HP Printer Skill for Alexa delivers hands-free printing that fits right into the way you live,” and, “Make printing as easy as talking. HP Printer skill lets you connect your printer to Alexa-enabled devices for hands-free printing.”

The first step was to create an HP Connected account.

Next, I had to turn on Web Services on my printer, and then print the Web Services Info page. This page gave me a code number that I could enter into my new HP Connected account, which registered the printer to my account for the purposes of printer-web-services.

To link the printer to Alexa, I opened the Alexa app, searched for the HP skill, selected and enabled it, and granted it permission to access my Alexa Lists.

Using Alexa to print

Once I was all connected, I was able to start printing. The first thing I said was:

“Alexa, ask my printer to print my shopping list.”

Within seconds, my shopping list had been printed. Although the font used was in line with large print guidelines at the same size as 16 point Arial and  the colour was a reddish colour. Although this is visually quite pleasant, the contrast levels are not the levels recommended for visually impaired people.

As a follow up, I said:

“Alexa, ask my printer to print my to do list.”

I also tried a few more commands, including:

“Alexa, ask my printer to print a Crayola colouring page,” and, “Alexa, ask my printer to print a hard sudoku game.”

Some of the other things you can ask your printer to print are blank forms, including checklists, lined paper, graph paper and blank calendars.

HP Smart App

Following some more research, I discovered that I could download an app to my smartphone called HP Smart. This allowed me further control of the printer, both through the app and through my Echo.

After entering a couple of details to connect my app to my account, I was able to say:

“Alexa, ask my printer to scan to email.”

Alexa explained what she was going to do and the printer scanned a document and dropped it as a PDF in my inbox a few seconds later.

The only drawback was that the PDF was an image of the original document and the text was part of the image rather than separately identified as text. This means that screen readers would not be able to read the document to you as they would not find any text. You would need to use a service like RoboBraille or an app like Envision AI to convert the PDF into text that can be read by screen readers.

Other app features

Within the app, there are a number of shortcuts already set up, but you can add your own. For example, I could set up a shortcut, or Smart Task to scan a document and email it to my manager or a family member. I could then ask Alexa:

“Ask my printer to scan to manager.”

The app was fully compatible with VoiceOver on my iPhone 8 but unfortunately not compatible with larger fonts.

Some ideas for use

While this list is not exhaustive, here are some potential uses for the HP Printer skill if you are visually impaired:

  • To print your shopping list to give to someone else to do your shopping, or to hand to a shop assistant so that they can see your shopping list as they guide you around the shop;
  • To print out a Crayola colouring page, if you have children or grandchildren, to keep them occupied;
  • To scan a letter so that you can email it to a family member or friend to keep them informed;
  • To scan documents that you would like to keep a record of, if you are willing/able to use services to convert image-only PDFs to accessible text documents.

Final thoughts

This is an example of a skill and app that has been designed for the mass market that may be of use to visually impaired people.

There are some adjustments that could be made to make it more accessible, including changing the colour and boldness of the font when printing out lists, and introducing Optical Character Recognition to scanned documents.

Setting up was not the easiest process in the world and the harder the setup process, the less likely people are to see it through. This is mainly due to the number of steps and the fact that my printer was so old (at least six years) that I needed to carry out some rather convoluted firmware updates before I could link it to the Alexa skill.

Despite the adjustments that could be made,, the HP Printer Alexa skill could open up some possibilities for visually impaired people to print lists and scan documents.

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