I recently saw this great announcement about a couple of college students that won the Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for their invention of gloves that translate American Sign Language into spoken word and written text. I was really impressed how they used technology, and how they thought above and beyond their own immediate needs when it came to technology. I, on the other hand, am guilty of thinking about technology, specifically smart home technology, from a self-serving mindset.
Feeling that guilt pretty heavily, I decided to do a little research to see how smart home technology is being used to make accessible living conditions.
My first thought was that, sure, the current market products definitely help make living condition more accessible, but then I thought about how they aren’t really marketed that way. There are some mentions of how smart technology can help elderly that are still living at home but that’s about all that I can see on it. I started to think about all the ways that smart home technology could help make users with disabilities more independent.
Being able to turn lights on and off without using a switch isn’t new – it was available with clapping years ago – but that method isn’t available for all lights. With smart home lighting, anyone that isn’t able to reach a light switch can instead use their smart phone or tablet to turn their lights on and off. With the right home assistant, users could even control their lights with just their voice. I always just thought of this as a cool convenience, or a way to show off, but for those who can’t reach light switches, it’s more of an awesome accommodation. This general thinking can apply to more than just lights, too. Smart switches can operate televisions, fans, blinds, and lots of other appliances that plug in. Voice controlled technology with voice response can help blind users navigate things like movie show times, television guides, weather and traffic reports, and more. Smart locks can help disabled people let visitors into their house, or lock up after them, without having to get to the door.
All of this technology has been looked at and written about by me in the past. I’ve always approached it from the angle of convenience, and not about how it can be a game changer for some people’s daily lives. I don’t think the tech is specifically being designed to help those with disabilities, and it certainly isn’t being marketed that way, but it just happens to be something that transforms lives, instead of just entertaining us.
One of the biggest obstacles for getting smart technology into the right hands for accessible living is the cost. The people that can most benefit from this tech are likely to already have a lot of medical and equipment bills. The good news is that I found several organizations that work with disabled veterans and more to help provide them with smart homes.
I hope that people with disabilities are taking the time to send their feedback to the companies that are producing smart product, so that improvements can continue to make their homes and daily living more accessible.
Do you have a story about how smart technology made a home more accessible? Do you have any ideas on how we could use smart technology with accessibility in mind? I’ll look for your thoughts in the comments section.