Working for People with Sight Loss

What is the NCBI Smart Hub?

NCBI service users ex Rose of Tralee Aine Sullivan and comedian Robbie Ford standing face to face and laughing in front of a black and glowing blue background at the launch of myNCBI Smart Hub

NCBI Launches myNCBI Smart Hub on Alexa and Google Home

Innovative technology ‘Disrupts’ Charity Sector With Its First Voice-Based Platform

Aine Sullivan holding an Alexa Device in front on the my NCBI Logo

NCBI, National Council for the Blind of Ireland, has today announced the launch of myNCBI Smart Hub Skill on Alexa and Google Home, the very first innovative voice-based platform of its scale within the charity sector.

NCBI to give away 500 ECHO DOT (4th Gen) Alexa devices to celebrate Global Accessibility Awareness Day to its Service Users. If you are a registered Service User with NCBI or know someone that would like to avail of a device please email Smart Hub.

myNCBI Smart Hub is a voice assistant AI based skill that’s available on Alexa-enabled devices and Google Home. It allows voice service users and their families access to the latest information on sight loss and a full suite of features. To start simply ask ‘Alexa launch myNCBI’ to open the Skill, and then use a range of additional commands such as “Alexa, tell me about the symptoms of Nystagmus” or “Alexa, play a podcast”. From accessing information on NCBI support services, sight loss conditions, NCBI Labs technology services and advocacy to the NCBI podcast and library access to hear the latest articles from national newspapers and magazines, it also allows users to request a referral or a call back from an NCBI staff member.

Whilst there are approximately 55,000 people who are blind or visually impaired in Ireland, with that number rising as the population ages, a portion of the demographic are often isolated and may not have access or the skills (orientation and mobility, white cane skills) currently to avail of assessments, training, referrals and detailed medical information on sight loss and its conditions. This coupled with Covid lockdowns further increased the need for NCBI to provide alternative avenues to its services.

Kyran O’Mahoney, Chief Technology Officer at NCBI, says: “This is the first time an innovative voice-based platform of scale such as this has been developed in the charity sector. There are many barriers for people with disabilities and we wanted to remove some financial and location restrictions to our services and supports. From research, we knew that most of our service users have either an Alexa-enabled or Google device in their home already so we opted to design and build the myNCBI Smart Hub to allow us to assist them directly on these platforms, whilst also creating a ‘path of least resistance’ to technology for the older generation who are predominately new to sight loss.”

Kyran O'Mahoney in front of the my NCBI Logo

“The use of disruptive technology enables us to expand and further reach and help people who are blind or live with visual impairments. The launch of myNCBI Smart Hub will have profound impacts to support people with disabilities world-wide.”

“The myNCBI Smart Hub is not built to be used just by NCBI. The NCBI Labs technology team developed this concept to be completely white labelled and so that it can be implemented across multiple charities cheaply and quickly. We also chose to partner with Irish-based Cation Consulting as the AWS Conversational AI Partner who worked with our team to enable us to deliver our services in an easy-to-use conversational manner for our service users.”

Dennis Stansbury, Alexa UK Country Manager, said: “We’re delighted that customers in Ireland can now access myNCBI through Alexa. The myNCBI skill is another great way that Alexa is helping our blind or vision impaired customers feel more independent and connected by simply using voice commands.”

For those with access to an Alexa-enabled device or Google Home device, myNCBI Smart Hub can easily be enabled from the Amazon Skill section of the Amazon app or the Google Action section of the Google App. Once enabled, the full suite of features can be accessed for free by linking the skill to a myNCBI account.

For anyone in need of assistance with installing or using their devices We offer a dedicated support line and email address for technical support related to assistive and mainstream technology.

The service is free for people with sight loss and their families.

The Technology Support Helpdesk is operated between 09:00 to 17:00 Monday to Friday.

Technology Support Helpdesk 

How to use myNCBI Alexa Skill

About myNCBI

Robbie Ford holding a Smart Device in front of a screen containing Alexa Commands

Whether you are blind, have low vision or know someone with a vision impairment you can use the myNCBI action to access our information on sight loss and how the NCBI can be of help, answers to frequently asked questions on NCBI Services, sight Loss, treatments, and more. 

The myNCBI Action also provides information regarding the requesting of referrals, call backs from the NCBI and provides access to media content such as podcasts, newsletters, and audio books.  

You can stay connected to NCBI, accessing information and technology such as our audio library service, day to day living techniques, employment readiness, Mobility training etc. 

Skill Requirements

To use the myNCBI skill you must be 16+ years old, have an Amazon account and create a myNCBI account as well.

If you are new to the NCBI and do not have an Amazon account, please Call us at 1800 911 110  or email labs@ncbi.ie to register or get support with creating your Amazon account.

To invoke the myNCBI skill you need to choose the language as “English(United Kingdom)”

Aine Sullivan & Robbie Forde holding an Alexa Device in front a digital computer network displayHow does it work

To launch the skill simply say:

  “Alexa, talk to myNCBI”

  “Alexa, speak to myNCBI”

  “Alexa, I want to speak to myNCBI”

  “Alexa, ask myNCBI”

Once the skill has launched, you will hear the main options menu which lists the information you can access.

The skill provides information on the following topics:

  • NCBI Core Services
  • NCBI Additional Services
  • Sight Loss Conditions
  • NCBI Labs Services
  • Advocacy

You have access to the NCBI podcast and Talking Technology with NCBI Labs podcast too for some easy informative listening. 

Library members can access Talking Newspapers to hear the latest articles from 17 Irish Newspapers and Magazines.

You can also request a referral or a call back from an NCBI staff member. 

 

Core Services

When the skill launches, you will hear a welcome  message and an options menu. One of the options is “core services”. If you would like to hear information about the main services that NCBI provides, choose this one.You will hear a further list with the core services, to choose one just say the name of one of the options.

Additional Services

If you want to hear about even more services that NCBI has to offer, you can say “additional services” after the main menu options. You will be met with a list of the services. Just say the name of the service once your device has finished listing the options.

Sight Loss Conditions

If you want to hear information on any of the 17 most common sight loss conditions, you can simply say “tell me about sight loss conditions” and you will be given a list of them. Say the name of whichever condition you would like information about and you will hear a general definition, symptoms, treatments, and how NCBI can help you. If you already know exactly which section you want to hear, just say the name of the condition followed by the name of the section, for example, “tell me about amblyopia treatments”. 

Labs Services

If you’re interested in the technology support that NCBI Labs provides, say “Labs services” after the main options menu. You will hear a list of the different Labs services, just say the name of whichever one you’d like to listen to.

Advocacy

The last option in the main menu is Advocacy. If you choose this one, you will be met with a list of information pieces which you can say the name of to hear about. 

Podcasts

Another feature of the myNCBI SmartHub is the podcast section. NCBI records weekly informative podcasts, and NCBI Labs provides accessible technology podcasts. Both can be found within the myNCBI skill by saying “I’d like to listen to a podcast”. You can then choose which of the two podcasts you’d like to listen to, and the latest episode will start playing. You can also use any of the following media controls to pause, stop or change episode:

Pause the audio: Pause, Stop

Start again from the beginning: Start Over

Next audio: Play next, Next audio, Next episode

Previous audio: Play previous, Previous audio, Previous episode

 

Library and Talking Newspaper members

If you are a member of NCBI’s Library or Talking Newspapers group, you can listen to audio recordings from 17 Irish magazines and newspapers. Once in the skill, you can ask your smart speaker device “I’d like to listen to a magazine”. You’ll hear a list of all the titles you can choose from, and then you’ll be asked which genre you’d like to listen to. This will play the latest audio article. The same media controls as the podcasts can be used to pause, stop, and change episodes. If you have not set a favourite genre, your device will ask you if you’d like to set the current genre you are listening to as your favourite. This means that you will receive notifications on your smart speaker when a new recording from that genre is uploaded, as long as you have notifications enabled. To enable notifications, go to your mobile application, navigate to your myNCBI skill, and grant notification permission in the skill settings. If you are a service user and would like to become a member to access these audio magazines, please contact NCBI, or ask for a call back and a staff member will contact you.