For people living with disabilities, some of the greatest challenges lie in everyday activities like opening and closing the blinds, turning on the lights or turning off the TV. There are many things in daily life that home-automation can make easier for people with mobility or muscle control impairments. Here’s a list of home automation devices, and how they can improve the lives of people with disabilities.
Voice assistants are computer programs that can recognize your speech to follow your commands or answer your questions. They’re quickly becoming a home staple among the younger generation, but they have much more power to be life-changing for the elderly or people with disabilities. Some voice assistants only work from a smartphone or tablet, but many come as a small speaker that you can place on the kitchen or coffee table.
Voice assistants are useful to tell you what the weather will be like, how long it takes to go somewhere, when the shops close, and many other useful bits of information that might be cumbersome to access for people with disabilities. You can also give it commands to play your favourite song, play something on the TV (if it is connected), set alarms and reminders, or send a text message. Many daily activities can be controlled using the voice assistant. The voice assistant can also be used to operate connected smart devices such as lights, doorbells, locks, thermostats, and curtains.
A short list of the most popular voice assistants:
- Siri: this is only accessible from Apple devices, and has limited integration with other home automation tools.
- Alexa: the Alexa voice assistant runs on the Amazon Echo. It comes in different shapes and sizes, and is a stand-alone device that you can put on your coffee table. Alexa can integrate with many other home-automation products.
- Google Assistant: this assistant can run on smartphones and tablets, but can also run on Google Home, a stand-alone device much like the Amazon Echo. Google Assistant has excellent integration with other home-automation products.
For some people just hitting a light switch can be difficult. Smart lights get rid of this problem entirely. Some smart lights work on voice control with a voice assistant, and some work based on their surroundings, and can come on based on movement, light levels, or timing. There is a range of features you can expect from smart lights, from light levels and dimming, to coloured lights.
Here is a short list of the most popular smart lights currently on the market:
- Philips Hue: The Philips Hue is renowned for its colour features. The Hue can also be used as a wake-up light by automatically brightening at a predefined time to help you wake up in the morning. Philips offers an app for your mobile phone and a hub to control multiple lights at once.
- C by GE: The C lights from GE easily integrate with popular voice assistants such as Alexa and Google Assistant.
- Lifx: The Lifx line of lights cover a wide range of lighting needs. They can be coloured or plain, and come for a range of fittings and uses (indoor and outdoor). They easily integrate with popular voice assistants such as Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple HomeKit.
- Hive Active Lights: The Hive line has three variants, a dimmable bulb, a cool/warm light bulb, and a coloured light bulb. Hive has its own smart-home infrastructure, and can tie together thermostats, lights, plugs and cameras.
- Sengled Element: Sengled has a good range of lights available for different light warmth, dimming and colour options. They also have motion activated lights, and integrate with all major home automation systems.
- Ikea: Ikea joined the smart light market in 2017 when they released the TRÅDFRI line. Ikea offers a wide range of Wi-Fi enabled lights that use the Ikea TRÅDFRI mobile app for control.
- Lightwave Smart Lighting: Lightwave focuses on the switches, rather than the bulb. This has advantages in that you can largely use regular light-bulbs, and when they burn out you don’t have to replace an expensive smart-bulb. They do take a little more effort to setup.
Even fully abled people run to the door when the doorbell rings. A few of them might even have had to run after the postal worker who left quickly after ringing the doorbell. People with disabilities who are tired of arriving at an empty door after hustling to get there can find relief in the smart doorbells currently on the market. Many doorbells allow you to see who is at the door with a camera, and a number of them allow you to speak with the person on the other side with built in speakers and microphones.
A short list of the most popular smart doorbells includes:
- Ring: Ring offers a range of good quality video doorbells and security cameras. The doorbells come with the camera built in, and the camera is used both for communicating with the person who rang the doorbell, and as a constant security camera with motion activation and alerts. All features are accessible on your smartphone or tablet.
- Nest: The Nest Hello video doorbell works similarly to the Ring doorbells. It has the added feature of pre-recorded messages, so you can quickly tell the other person to be patient while you answer the door. You can also speak directly with the person with the built in speakers and microphone. It also integrates well with Google Home.
- Skybell: Skybell is another great contender for top video doorbell. Their focus is on the communication and security features. The Skybell website calls out the life-changing effects of video doorbells for people with disabilities.
For people with dexterity issues, such as CP, Parkinson’s, and Arthritis patients, turning a key to open a door can be difficult. Even pressing numbers on a keypad can be a challenge. Smart locks can offer reprieve from this everyday struggle by making it easier for people to unlock doors without contact, either by holding a device such as a phone or card against it, or by using an app to unlock it remotely.
A short list of the most popular smart locks includes:
- August: August comes with all the features you’d expect from a smart lock. It integrates with popular voice assistants and home automation hubs, you can remotely unlock the door using the app, and the door can automatically unlock when your phone gets near. They also have locks with cameras for greater security.
- Nest x Yale: Yale is a long-time manufacturer of locks, and they have partnered with Nest to create the Nest x Yale smart lock. Being a Google company, the Nest locks integrate very well with Google Home and Google Voice Assistant.
- Schlage Sense: Schlage has been making locks since 1920, and were quick to enter the smart lock market. The locks come in different styles, with the basic smart lock functions, but no camera or speech capabilities.
For people with disabilities controlling your environment is important. For some, throwing on a sweater when it’s a little chilly might not be so easy. Controlling humidity and temperature in your home can be done with a number of smart thermostats. Some of these thermostats are not only easy to control with your smartphone or tablet, but many of them can also learn your habits, and adjust the temperature automatically based on your preference.
- Nest: Nest is credited with kickstarting the smart thermostat movement. Now owned by Google, Nest integrates well with all Google home automation tools, and does everything you’d expect from a smart thermostat. Where possible it will regulate temperature and humidity, will learn you preferences, and react to motion sensors. Nest apart is expandable with sensors that you can place in other rooms, to make sure the room you’re in gets the optimal temperature.
- Honeywell: Honeywell is a household name when it comes to appliances such as thermostats. Their smart thermostat is a solid design and integrates with all popular voice assistants. The screen is easy to read, and includes useful information such as weather forecasts. It has all the regular smart thermostat features, and sets itself apart with the weather notifications; sending you updates for extreme weather conditions.
- Ecobee: The Ecobee 4 combines several smart home features into the wall mounted thermostat. Not only does it regulate temperature and humidity, it integrates the Amazon Alexa voice assistant so you can give it commands and ask questions much like with the stand alone Alexa voice assistant. With more Ecobee products connected, the thermostat becomes the central control system for your smart home. Ecobee is also expandable with sensors to place in other rooms, much like the Nest.