Google's Action Blocks makes Google Assistant more accessible on Android devices

Designed for users with cognitive disabilities, Action Blocks can be configured to do anything the Assistant can do, in just one tap.
Written by Stephanie Condon, Senior Writer

Google on Wednesday announced a new tool to help users with cognitive disabilities take advantage of Google Assistant on Android devices. Called Action Blocks, the new tool lets you create shortcuts for anything the AI-powered assistant can already do on your device. With Action Blocks, users can accomplish tasks -- such as calling a family member, or booking a ride with Lyft -- with just one tap.  

Users can trigger an Action Block by tapping on the corresponding icon on their device's home screen. A user could choose a picture of a car, for instance, to prompt Google Assistant to  book a ride with Lyft. 

Action Blocks take care of tasks that may already seem simple to the average user, but they can present a challenge to people with cognitive disabilities such as autism, Down Syndrome, traumatic brain injury (TBI) or dementia. Citing research from the journal Inclusion, Google notes that there are an estimated 630 million people in the world with some form of cognitive disability. 

Action Blocks is still in the testing phase, and Google is inviting caregivers and family members of people with cognitive disabilities to join its trusted tester program

Google says Action Blocks is the first of multiple efforts to build tools for people with cognitive disabilities. The company has already leveraged AI to improve accessibility for users with other types of disabilities. For instance, earlier this year Google rolled out a tool called Live Relay, which helps deaf people use the phone, even if they prefer not to speak.

Other leaders in AI are building similar tools. Amazon recently rolled out a new Echo Show feature called Show and Tell, which helps blind and visually impaired users ask Alexa what household pantry items they're holding.

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