Toddlers With disabilities and Alexa

Toddlers with disabilities can benefit from Alexa, but how does this AI technology respond to certain questions?

As we know toddlers with disabilities stammer and often mispronounce words and Alexa would respond with an apology or silence.

This excludes toddlers from this popular AI technology. Children communicate with technology in a different way than adults would. Technology that repeats or prompts would be more useful for toddlers and more people.

Coauthor and assistant professor at the UW Information School, Alexis Hiniker said:

There has to be more than ‘Im sorry, I didn’t quite get that”, voice interfaces now are designed in a cut-dried way that needs more nuance.  Adults don’t talk to children and assume there will be perfect communication. That’s relevant here.”

The study is published in the proceedings of the 17th Interaction design and Children and Children Conference, held in Norway.

Around 40 million homes in the US have voice-activated assistants like Amazon Echo or Google Home.  By 2022, more than half US homes will own one.

Hiniker suggests that the scenario was accidental as the team was originally evaluating various tablet games and their effect on executive function skills.  But when they configured the tablet to record the responses of the children, they discovered their data collection tool shut off the devices ability to “hear” children.

The team found more than 100 recordings of children trying to get the duck to quack- attempting a repair of a lapse in communication – with parents attempting to help.  The study shows how children communicate with nonresponsive voice technology.

Researchers grouped their communication strategies into three categories:

  • Repetition – the most common approach used
  • Increased volume – least common
  • Variation – through pitch without any success

Parents were keen to assist but gave up soon as they saw the game as faulty.  Children were encouraged to keep trying until they believed the game to be faulty and then they stopped further attempts.

Hiniker said:

Adults are good at recognizing what a child wants to say and filling in for the child, a device could also be designed to engage in partial understanding, to help the child go one step further.” 

A child may ask a smart speaker to play “Wheels on the Bus,” but if the device doesn’t pick up the entire name of the song, it would respond with “play what?” or fill in part of the title, prompting the child for the remainder.

Changes need to be made to suit all ages and communication.  This is a possibility as technology is growing and changing.