Look Mom – No Hands! Easy Video Visits Using Amazon Echo Show

Here’s a way to visit family or friends this COVID-19 season without their having to do or know anything technical. We covered this briefly in AT and Coronavirus Preparedness. Thank you, Jeannie Krull, of the North Dakota Assistive Technology (AT) Program (ND Assistive) for this deeper look.

Due to COVID-19, you may have heard stories of seniors, people with disabilities, and those with health issues having “face-to-face” conversations with their loved ones through a window in order to comply with social distancing.

But what if no one can get to their window?  What if they do not have the cognitive or physical skills to dial the phone or push the button to answer? And what if someone is not technically savvy enough to use Messenger, Facetime, or Zoom?

At ND Assistive, we get questions like this all the time–especially now–and there are many great solutions. Today, though, I want to highlight one feature on one device: “Drop-in” calling with the Amazon Echo Show.

Drop-In Feature of the Amazon Echo Show

The Amazon Echo Show is an “Alexa” voice-activated assistant with a touch-screen display.

A small monitor on a night stand shows a man holding a puppy on one side and a woman's smiling face in the opposite upper corner.
An 8″ Amazon Echo Show receiving a call.

The Show has many benefits for seniors and those with disabilities. However, the feature that sets it apart, in my opinion, is its capacity to “drop-in” via video call, a hands-free operation on both ends.

Echo Show allows family members to video-call one another, simply by saying something like “Alexa drop-in on Grandma.” It’s similar to a video intercom, but without the buttons.

To receive a call, Grandma need only be within earshot of her Echo Show. The call starts automatically and she can see and talk to whoever is calling.  She does not have to touch the screen or say anything to accept the call.  The caller sees the image of Grandma slowly fade in (on their own Echo Show or their Smartphone), giving Grandma a little time to prepare to be seen.

Now, this whole thing may sound intrusive, but it all has to be set up ahead of time and permissions must be granted by the users. No one can drop in unless the receiver has granted access.

Echo Show also has a standard video calling feature for persons who do not welcome drop-ins. This feature allows a user the choice to accept or ignore calls, as well as make them by voice  (i.e. “Alexa call Dennis”). Drop-In is highlighted here because the feature requires the receiver to do nothing, not even respond. [Editor’s note: one state AT program director uses this feature to drop in on her own living room and make sure her teenager is not throwing any parties!]

Michael Simon from Tech Hive does a wonderful job explaining how to set up calls and which devices can be used to make and receive calls.

Video Demo

This video demonstrates a Drop-In video call on the Amazon Echo Show. This particular call was initiated from an Amazon Alexa app on the man’s phone with a command: “Drop in on Jeannie.” It was answered automatically because of the permission I granted in settings. The video shows an 8″ Echo Show displaying the caller on one side (holding his puppy) and me in a smaller window in an opposite corner, slowly fading in. Note: calls can be ended on either end by saying a command like “Alexa, hang-up on Dennis” or by pushing the hangup button on the Alexa App.

Drop-in video calls would be great for:

  • Loved ones isolated in different parts of a house, nursing home, or the country;
  • People with dementia who no longer understand how to answer or dial a phone;
  • People with a physical disability who cannot use a standard phone or tablet for video;
  • People who just don’t want to deal with technology but would love a face-to-face video call from the “fam”;
  • People with a cognitive disability or who are deaf/hard of hearing and cannot understand you without reading lips, seeing facial gestures, or using sign language;
  • People with mental health needs who could really use a great “in-person” visit; or
  • When you really need to see the adorable kid in your family because a flip phone won’t cut it!

How to Get the Echo Show to a Loved One, COVID-19 Style

So with this Pandemic, how do you get near your loved one to even set it up? Even though it is a piece of cake for the person receiving the call to use, someone will still have to set it up. Here are some suggestions.

User’s Wi-Fi Network and Password is Known

Well, fortunately, you can set up the Show before you ship it or deliver it as long as you know the Wi-Fi network name and password.  Amazon has some good directions for setting up the Echo Show remotely and before it is delivered. 

User’s Wi-Fi Information is Not Known

  • If there is someone at the person’s home that can follow step-by-step instructions to set it up, you can walk them through on the phone or provide them with an instruction sheet.
  • Another way would be to go to their home, to the outside only, of course, and somehow plug it into an external power source within Wif-Fi range, like the garage, and finish the setup.

User Has No Wi-Fi

If you have a tech-phobic loved one who doesn’t have the internet, one solution is taking an old smartphone and using it to create an internet hotspot (if they’re not in a cell service dead zone). You can add a line to your cell plan, and plug the phone in somewhere unobtrusive in the home for continuous power.  Activate the “personal hotspot” option in settings and connect the Echo Show.

Ways to Obtain the Echo Show

The Echo Show is available from Amazon and other retailers in 3 different sizes (5″, 8″, and 10″). The 10″ screen would be a nice size for some users with vision impairments. If paying for one is difficult, contact your State AT Program to learn about funding options in your state. If you want to just try it out, ask if your State AT Program has an Echo Show to borrow from their short-term device loan program. Equipment loans are a great way to see if the device can work for you and someone you want to visit! Many programs are also offering virtual demonstrations.

More Resources:

Read How to Set Up and Use Drop-In on Amazon Echo Devices.

Here is a product review of the Echo Show for use with seniors.

Learn more about free voice and video calls using Alexa devices from PC Magazine.