What is assistive technology?

Assistive technology is any kind of technology and/or tool that can be used to enhance the functional independence of a person with a disability. Often, for people with disabilities, accomplishing daily tasks such as communicating with others, going to school or work, or participating in activities can be a challenge. Assistive Technology (AT) devices are tools to help overcome those challenges and enable people living with disabilities to enhance and have access to a quality of life, that may otherwise not be known, and lead more independent lives.

The mission of this blog is to serve as a voice of a constant researcher in the field of educational and assistive technologies so that the best products, strategies and services may be located easily, in hopes that they will then be delivered, taught and used to better the lives of people with disabilities.


Smart Home Supports

People with motor issues can really be challenged by the simplest of things. We take for granted changing the thermostat or answering the door but if you have challenges with motor tasks these can be extremely challenging. Today's world is providing amazing options, allowing access and independence in so many areas around the home. This new universal design world is allowing a better world of self-reliance right out of the box for seniors and people with disabilities. So let's look at what a smart home really is and what it might be able to do for you. 

What is a smart home? Let's watch the possibilities:

"The term smart home covers a wide range of home-based technology that is integrated between devices using an Internet connection. From the home dweller’s perspective, a smart home provides comfort, security, safety, accessibility, energy efficiency, and convenience through the use of appliances, lighting, electronic equipment, heating and cooling systems, entertainment systems, and home security solutions. In a smart home, all such devices can be controlled remotely by any desktop computer or mobile device with Internet access, or preset using a pre-defined preferential schedule. They can even be customized on a room-by-room basis. Many smart home solutions can also accept voice commands for the ultimate in-home convenience.

Smart homes are becoming a large component of a digital phenomenon known as the Internet of Things (IoT). The IoT refers to all those devices that are interconnected and identifiable to one another through digital networks. Think of your smart watch talking to your home security system via the Internet. As technology continues to advance, it’s predicted that such interconnectivity will become the norm, and will continue to be a necessity for individuals who struggle with daily home-related activities due to age or disability." Source: https://www.homeadvisor.com/r/budget-friendly-smart-home-accommodations-for-seniors-and-individuals-with-special-needs/#ixzz5C6Xbk0Ab

Let's explore some basic options:
  • A smartphone should be your first purchase. This may be a "duh" but seriously, a smartphone is a must! Many of the smart home options are connected to an app on your smartphone. The iPhone especially has so many features built in to support accessibility. If the iPhone does not provide enough to fit your needs, take a look at Sesame Enable. This is a touch-free smartphone app allowing you to operate any mobile device by simply using head movements. Take a look at How to Choose the Right Cell Phone for a Person with a Disability if you need help getting started. 
  • Amazon Echo or Google Home are both devices are an ideal starting point for any smart home setup. Google Home, the Echo, and its smaller companion Echo Dot, allow you to control devices in your house using your voice. All will provide you with the ability to get answers, play songs, tackle your day, enjoy your entertainment and control your smart home with just your voice. You can get personalized help with your schedule, reminders, calls, news and more to help you tackle your day. This is the first starting point to becoming independent. (Most AAC devices can control a device also.) 
  • Smart WiFi Plugs allow you to control your devices from anywhere without a hub being required. It will work with an Alexa or Google Assistant. With the WiFi plug, turn electronics on or off from anywhere with your smartphone using the Kasa app (Compatible w/ Android & iOS), use it with complete voice control/ hands-free through your Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Microsoft Cortana. Check out the Kasa Smart WiFi Plug but be sure to compare it with others. 
  • Doorbells can also become a smart device. If you spend a lot of time in bed due to a disability or chronic illness, or if you can’t see out your front windows from your wheelchair or bed, a smart doorbell can help. The Ring smart doorbell has a motion-sensor camera and will show you who’s at the door so you can decide whether to answer or not. Check out the guide 8 Best Smart Doorbells for your Home. 
  • A door lock system is important if you need to give friends, family, personal care attendants, nurses, therapists or a housekeeper access to your home. A smart lock is a much safer option than a keypad or handing out keys to everyone. Keypad locks don’t tell you if, when or by whom they’ve been used, and it can be difficult to change the combination of there is a need. The combination (or key) can easily be given away to an unwanted person. By contrast, the August Smart Locks uses each user’s smartphone as a key. You can give users admin, guest, or temporary access, or even limit the days and times they can enter your home. The app keeps a log of who has entered your home and when, so you can confirm your kids or home health aide arrived on time. If you don’t want someone coming over anymore you can remove their access in seconds. The Best Smart Locks of 2018 provides a nice comparison chart. 
  • A garage door opener can be a challenge. It’s easy to lose garage door openers, and the buttons can be hard to press if you have limited hand strength. With a smart garage door opener, you can open your garage from anywhere. (Be sure to check the brand of your existing garage door opener to choose a compatible smart add-on.) A few major brands to explore include GogogateChamberlainLiftMaster, and NexxGarage. Guide available: Top 9 Smart Garage Door Openers. 
  • Lighting is one of the best tools for increasing access and visibility in your home. You no longer need to remodel a house just to lower a light switch for access!! One smart plug or light bulb can make even the most inaccessible fixture simple to use with a tap to your smartphone. Smart light bulbs like the Philips Hue give you more options than just “on” and “off.” They can be dimmed and change colors if this is important to your access. (You may need to dim lights to reduce sensory overload or see more effectively in a certain color light, you now have options.) Although individual plugs and bulbs aren’t terribly expensive, they add up quickly. This is where building your home’s network gradually comes in. You can use a Philips Hue starter kit to get your most frequently used or currently least accessible room set up first, then expand to more areas as money allows. (Another money-saving tip: where possible, buy a smart power strip and then plug in multiple devices.)
  • Security Cameras are a way of keeping an eye on things if you are away or even if you are at home.  For example, the Amazon Cloud Cam works with Alexa. You can stay connected 24/7 by having the camera point in the direction of interest. You can watch, download, and share the last 24 hours of motion alert video clips for free, get notified when Cloud Cam sees activity, see clearly in the dark and use two-way audio to check in with the family or tell your dog to stop barking. They are easy to set up, can stream video to your phone, tablet or PC, and will send you notifications if they detect motion or loud noises. Check out Tom's guide Best Wireless Home Security Cameras 2018.
Be aware of security. This is being explored more and more as these tools become popular and there are more and more concerns coming up about security. Be a wise user. Look at current concern and know what you are doing or hire someone who does. Passwords are key to good security. Follow the rules for a good password

  1. Consider downloading and using a free password manager. These simple to use solutions randomly generate tough-to-hack passwords for all devices (or Websites for that matter), and you the user do not need to remember them.
  2. Never share your passwords with other individuals.
  3. Don’t use the same passwords on different devices.
  4. Never use your network name as a password.
  5. Avoid using words in passwords that can be found in a dictionary.
  6. Never write down and store passwords in plain view.
Further Resources: