Simple, easy-to-use smart home tools are available today to address the challenges people with disabilities face. In researching these products, there are five key points to consider in order to minimize the frustration and complexity of creating an accessible smart home.
Lighting is the most obvious and affordable way to incorporate smart home automation tools. While many of us think of energy savings or convenience, the ability to turn on lights with a cell phone or voice assistant often gives an indescribable sense of empowerment to someone who just can’t get up to turn on the lights. Lights also equate to security – not only from obstacles and falls, but also from intruders. A house in which lights are periodically turned on is a less attractive target for criminal activity. The psychological benefits of lighting should not be exaggerated in terms of freedom of movement, safety and comfort.
All too often, however, many of those who begin the process of exploring “smart” lighting options find themselves confused because they cannot find a simple solution. Unfortunately, these products are often complex and difficult to set up, with no single approach that can help the average person create an adaptive and useful automation system for their home.
Many smart light products are devices that may require specialized electrical engineering skills to install. Smart bulbs are portable and seemingly convenient devices, but they require either an expensive and often arcane hub to control or a working Internet connection. When walking from one room to another is a significant hassle, local control of lights during Internet outages is critical.
When researching products, you can find five key points to minimize the frustration and complexity of setting up an affordable smart home for yourself or a family member.
- Compatibility. Pay close attention to products that are widely compatible with other systems and offer the ability to use APIs or protocols such as MQTT and CoAP, which have much more value than products that live in a closed ecosystem.
- WiFi is Key. Products based on the Zigbee, ZLL and Z-Wave protocols need a dedicated appliance (a hub or bridge) that may require Internet access to operate, they often have complex interfaces or are expensive. Chances are, you already have Wi-Fi in your house or apartment. And if possible, you should use a simple control so that lights can be turned on locally, with an app that can be used even when the Internet is down. The internal WiFi network still works, after all.
- Back to the simple stuff. If your skills don’t allow you to tackle more or less complicated things, focus on light bulbs and electrical plugs, some of which offer local control and extensive compatibility with other products.
- Affordability. While the prices of smart home products are relatively high, affordable options do exist, and these cheaper options don’t mean poor quality. Watch out – Facebook groups and independent reviewers can help find a number of cost-effective options that provide the versatility a person with a disability may need to live a comfortable and safe lifestyle.
- Make it simple. Focus on products that offer the ability to control a single device or group of devices with a single app on your phone or tablet. This functionality is a great addition (or replacement) for voice assistants, and by making the process simple, you will encourage your loved one who, due to age or illness, is not used to using high-tech systems to use it.
Lighting is just one segment of the automation market that can improve the lives of people with disabilities. Blinds, shades and curtains allow access to natural light during the day, while providing privacy during the day and evening hours.
“Smart” thermostats provide instant access to climate controls that can greatly improve comfort for people taking corticosteroids or other prescriptions that cause “hot flashes” or chills. Voice assistants, capable of interacting with thousands of different smart home systems, providing weather forecasts and calling friends, relatives or even emergency services, seem more like a necessity than a tool.
Even with the challenges of implementing smart technology in the home, these devices offer life-changing improvements for people with mobility issues. The devices available today are far ahead of those released just five or ten years ago, as manufacturers develop more versatile devices and allow them to connect, communicate and control those manufactured by other companies. As individual smart home technology gets smarter, consumers will rely less on hubs and constant Internet connectivity for critical systems, which will benefit everyone, but especially those living with disabilities.