IA Labs announces launch of voice-based service for NCBI

IA Labs CEO, Kyran O'Mahoney, holding an Alexa device in front of the myNCBI logo.

Today marks the official launch of myNCBI Smart Hub, a voice interaction model available on all Alexa-enabled and Google Home devices that gives users of all demographics easy access to information on NCBI’s services and special features just by saying, “Alexa / Google, open myNCBI”.

NCBI came up with the idea of a voice interaction model as an alternative to going to NCBI’s offices and availing of assessments, training, referrals, and other services there. A portion of NCBI’s service users is often isolated and may not currently have access or the orientation and mobility skills to go in person. This, along with the initial COVID-19 lockdown and its accompanying restrictions, meant NCBI needed an alternative avenue to their services.

Not only would this alternative have to be accessible, but also easy to use even for people who weren’t as adept with technology. Although NCBI’s long-term service users were already skilled with how to use screen readers and magnification to access digital content, some service users would be new to both sight loss and technology.

Thus NCBI partnered with Cation Consulting, an AWS Conversational AI partner, to design and build myNCBI Smart Hub as a Google Action and Alexa Skill.

The Cation Consulting team excelled in building this application using their extensive knowledge and experience with voice interaction models. There was no problem that Cation CTO Alan Kiernan and his team didn’t have multiple solutions for. It was thanks to their help that NCBI moved forward into the field of disruptive technology.

NCBI engaged IA Labs with project management support and full functionality and accessibility testing for myNCBI Smart Hub. Our Quality Assurance team performed testing across multiple platforms like Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Windows desktops, and Android and iOS mobile devices to ensure the application worked and met Web Content Accessibility 2.1 Level AA Guidelines.

Some Google and Alexa speakers come with screen displays, so the colours used for text and backgrounds were changed to have high contrast ratios. Our team also checked that all text content and the application’s conversation flows were easy to understand. The onboarding process of myNCBI Smart Hub, including enabling the voice application and linking it with a myNCBI account, was then tested for accessibility.

NCBI built their IDP around AWS Cognito which allows single sign-on for all of NCBI’s digital assets. From IA Labs’ accessibility audit, we discovered that AWS Cognito was not fully compliant with WCAG 2.1 standards. Cation Consulting quickly found a solution in wrapping Auth0 around our IDP, which ensures full accessibility compliance for all login pages. Auth0’s tagline is “Basically, we make your login box awesome”. While this is true, they also made NCBI’s login accessible; accessibility is first and foremost our main goal in any project.

NCBI service users Robbie Ford and Aine Sullivan smiling and holding an Alexa device
The myNCBI Smart Hub can provide information about NCBI’s history, their wide variety of services, and a summary of the symptoms, treatments, and terminologies associated with common sight loss conditions and how NCBI can help. Users can also request a referral or a call-back from a trained NCBI staff member or listen to Talking Technology with NCBI Labs and the NCBI podcast. Members of the NCBI Library can listen to additional media content such as audiobooks, newspapers, and newsletters.

IA Labs see myNCBI Smart Hub as a hugely innovative solution. Voice interaction models don’t require expensive, bespoke assistive technology to use and are able to provide a level of support to people with disabilities that has never been done before by other charity organisations or even private companies. Our team are proud to have worked so closely with NCBI staff and Cation Consulting to produce this voice application and are eager to further our knowledge and experience in the voice technology field.


If you have further questions or need help with any digital accessibility issue, please don’t hesitate to contact IA Labs. To read more on the work we do to make the technology world more inclusive of people with disabilities, or to find out more about how to use myNCBI Smart Hub, you can visit the following links.

IA Labs Services

What is the myNCBI Smart Hub?