D4 Voice-Activated Digital Assistants to Support Health and Independence: Development and Instructional Support

Principal Investigator

Kenneth Blocker, M.S. & R. S. Sreenivas, Ph.D.


Emma Lachs, B.S., Jaewon Kang, Ph.D., & Wendy Rogers, Ph.D.


OSF Healthcare; Post-Polio Health International; National Multiple Sclerosis Society; Clark-Lindsey Village; Disability Resources and Education Services (DRES); CRIS Health Aging; University of Chicago; National Opinion Research Center (NORC)


Individuals with long-term mobility disabilities are likely to experience challenges with activities at home, such as controlling their home environment, engaging in physical activity, interacting with others, and managing their health. Voice-activated digital assistants, such as the Amazon Alexa devices, have great potential to support this population in carrying out these activities as independently as possible at home with the ease of speaking commands. Alexa can be paired with a variety of smart home technologies, such as robotic vacuums and smart light bulbs, to help people with limited mobility complete activities at home as independently as possible.

In this project, we are developing a suite of voice-activated digital assistant applications to support the health and independence of people aging with mobility disabilities. Lastly, since many older adults experience technical challenges with set up and use of these digital assistant devices, we will develop and test an instructional guide with clear step-by-step instructions to facilitate independent use.

Learn more about how the apps and instructional guide developed in this project will be tested for efficacy and usefulness in the R2. Voice-Activated Digital Assistants Research Project.

An older Asian woman using a laptop and smart speaker while seated at a table beside an electronic tablet and notebooks.


Project Status

We now have developed 5 Amazon Echo User Guides:

  • Basic Uses
  • Setting Up
  • Social Communication: This user guide provides information and instructions related to how you can use your Amazon Echo to stay in-touch with friends, family, and the community using the built-in social features of the device. Learn about how to add contacts, make calls, and 'drop-in' on other connected Echo devices. (User guide for Android mobile devices)
  • Environmental Control: This user guide, originally developed for use in our field trial, describes the setup and basic uses of two common environmental control technologies used with the Amazon Echo: a smart light bulb (Philips Hue) and smart plug (Amazon smart plug). Learn about how to get them connected, what they can do, and how you can use them with your Echo to control your home environment and other non-smart technologies. (User guide for Android mobile devices)
  • Health Applications: This user guide provides instruction on how you can use your Amazon Echo device to assist you with tracking and understanding your health. It introduces some applications that have been created for the device, which help you simplify and remember to do certain health-related tasks. (User guide for Android mobile devices)

In partnership with Collaborations in Health, Aging, Research, and Technology (CHART) at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, we developed the Amazon Echo Basic Uses video playlist on youtube. These videos include guidance on helpful voice controls for weather, new, reminders, and more.


Check out our project poster presented at the 2022 TechSAge State of the Science:

Screenshot of poster "Assessing the Potential of Voice-Activated Digital Home Assistants for Older Adults with Mobility Disability"



Blocker, K. A., Kadylak, T., Koon, L. M., Kovac, C. E., & Rogers, W. A. (2020). Digital home assistants and aging: Initial perspectives from novice older adult users. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting. SAGE Publications. Santa Monica, CA: Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1071181320641327 

Koon, L. M., McGlynn, S. A., Blocker, K. A., & Rogers, W. A. (2019). Perceptions of Digital Assistants From Early Adopters Aged 55+. Ergonomics in Design, 1064804619842501.

Koon, L. M., Khaleghi, R. Blocker, K. A., Rogers, W.A., Sreenivas, R.S. (2020). On Integrating Voice-Activated Digital Assistants with Smart Home Technologies to Support People with Long-Term Mobility Disabilities: Needs Assessment, Product-Selection and Implementation. Proceedings of the International Conference on Industrial Engineering and Operations Management, Dubai, UAE. (pp/ 513-514). http://www.ieomsociety.org/ieom2020/papers/88.pdf

Project Alumni

Leonardo Galoso, B.S., Husna Hussaini, B.S., Saahithya Gowrishankar, B.A, Travis Kadylak, Ph.D., Roshanak Khaleghi, Ph.D., Cristopher Kovac, B.S., Lyndsie Koon, Ph.D., Ki Lim, B.S., Maya Malecki, Vikram Ramavarapu, B.S., Satvika Veeravalli, & Kyre Williams, B.S.

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