Virtual assistants and personal assistants in homecare interactions: conversational user interfaces as assistive technologies


This paper explores how conversational user interfaces (CUIs) and virtual assistants such as the Amazon Echo’s Alexa are integrated into the daily routines of a ‘smart’ homecare setting. Specifically, we focus on how a disabled person and their personal assistant (PA) manage and distribute their work during homecare routine activities of daily living such as eating, getting out of bed, and getting dressed. We studied ~100 hours of video recorded by participants using a voice-controlled camera system to examine how they adapted their activities to accommodate the affordances and constraints of working with a CUI and a range of connected smart home devices. Our analyses focus on how participants encounter and resolve practical and interactional troubles that emerge when using the CUI as a functional component of the homecare environment. By examining these moments in detail, this paper invites designers, engineers, and researchers to adopt a more interactional model of disability, agency, and environment that can describe the interdependent relationships between human users, virtual agents, and the smart homecare setting.


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