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Additional Smart Home Tech Options

In a world here lights can turn themselves on and off as you pass through rooms, and pantries can maintain their own inventories, the impact that such conveniences can have is maybe felt greatest of all for those that suffer from age-related or developmental disabilities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s estimated that one out of every five adults in the United States is living with a disability. The most common disabilities include:

  • Hearing difficulty, including deafness
  • Vision difficulty, including blindness or having serious difficulty seeing, even when wearing glasses
  • Speech or language difficulty
  • Cognitive difficulty, including Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or memory loss
  • Ambulatory/walking difficulty, including having serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs
  • Arthritis
  • Self-care/independent living difficulty, including difficulty dressing, bathing, or getting to/from doctor’s appointments or errands

 

For each of the disabilities listed above, what was once an incapacitating disorder that made living independently in one’s home nearly impossible, life-simplifying smart-home technology advancements are allowing individuals to remain comfortably, and safely, in their own homes – where they most want to be. What follows are smart home solutions that can make independent living possible for each of the previously listed disabilities, no matter the budget.

Hearing Difficulty

According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, it’s estimated that 20 percent of Americans are living with some degree of hearing loss. The most impacted population segment includes seniors, as one out of three individuals at age 65 suffers from hearing loss. Imagine the challenges of an individual living alone who suffers from a hearing disability. How many audio cues do you rely upon in your home? If you could not hear, how would you know if your doorbell range? When your oven timer was done? When your washing machine or dishwasher finished its cycle? Or if a home intruder was attempting to break in? Consider these smart home innovations for individuals with hearing difficulties:

Colored Notification Lights

A smart home convenience that can add comfort and reassurance to the home of a hearing-impaired resident is the installation of a colored light notification system. To help alert the hearing impaired of a variety of scenarios, the latest smart home innovations blink, and even use a series of colors to signify different types of alerts. For example, you may be able to customize your home so that your lights blink orange when a stranger arrives at your door, or purple when a specific family member comes home, or blink blue to indicate laundry is done. Such alerts help the hearing impaired to maintain a self-sufficient home environment.

Such lighting systems are available with a variety of features, from voice-controlled dimming (working in conjunction with Amazon Echo’s Alexa), while others allow for more customized color notification programming. They range from around $30 for a void controlled dimming light to $200 for a complete set with greater capabilities.

Pros

Colored lights can notify you of a variety of pre-defined home needs

Cons

The bulbs are more expensive than traditional light bulbs, and also require the purchase and installation of a hub device.

Customizations

Some systems allow you to customize what each flashing color indicates, allowing you to lead a more informed and confident home life.

Product Considerations

Some brands, such as the Phillips Hue, can integrate with smart home bulbs, such as the Amazon Echo. If you plan to integrate your lights with existing systems, make sure the brands you choose are compatible with your existing equipment.

Installation

Some customization and personalization may be required to set color preferences, or to tie into a smart home hub, however professional installation should not be required.

Budget

$$

 

Smart Doorbells

A variety of smart doorbells have been designed to assist the hearing impaired. Some integrate with smartphone apps and can alert a hearing-impaired individual when someone is at the door by causing the phone to vibrate or blink an alert light.

Taking the concept one step further, a camera doorbell allows an individual to see who is on the other side of the door by sending a camera feed to a smart phone. Through an interconnected speaker system, the homeowner can also speak to the guest. In the case of seniors with hearing loss or mobility issues, this allows them to ask their guests to wait while they make their way to the door.

An alternative smart doorbell option functions through the use of audio frequency waves. These products emit a sound on a unique frequency that can be detected by the deaf.

Perhaps the most fully functioning products add an additional security component by adding a motion sensor to detect activity outside the home. Such features help protect individuals with hearing difficulties from the threat of a break-in by alerting the home owner with a smart phone alert when it’s detected that someone is outside the home.

Pros

Smart doorbells can offer the hearing impaired the comfort and security of knowing they are protected from intruders, and that they won’t miss an important visitor. As an added security feature, a homeowner can turn on the doorbell camera to check the house at any time.

Cons

Most, with the exception of the audio frequency options, require integration with an existing smartphone.

Customizations

Some smart doorbells can be integrated with home security systems, allowing you to give a voice command to unlock the door if you’ve been notified of a visitor, and have confirmed visually that it’s someone you want to let into your home.

Product Considerations

Budget may be the most significant factor when deciding which smart doorbell to select. Most smart doorbells are available for a few hundred dollars, depending on their features, although stand-alone audio frequency doorbells are typically the least expensive. If you have a smart home hub that connects multiple smart home products, you may want to choose a doorbell that can integrate with your hub.

Installation

If you choose a more complex system that requires integration with a home security system, you may want to consider professional installation.

Budget

$ - $$

Also benefits

Those with mobility issues

 

Two-Way Communication Device

To enable the deaf or hearing impaired individuals to more easily participate in dialogue with those who do not speak in sign language, UNI is a smart assistive technology gaining popularity and support on the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo. The product, which is designed in the shape and size of a tablet, detects hand and finger gestures with a special camera algorithm that converts the sign language into text for the non-hearing impaired. It is also equipped with a microphone that converts speech into text to assist the hearing impaired. When both participants in the conversation are using a UNI device, they can carry on meaningful conversation. The device sells for about $200.

Pros

UNI does not require Wi-Fi to use the sign-to-voice and voice recognition features, which means it can be used even when Wi-Fi is not available.

Cons

UNI is not yet available via mainstream retailers. To reserve a UNI device, visit the company’s page on Indiegogo. Also, in addition the purchase price, UNI requires an annual subscription, which means you will be subject to ongoing costs.

Customizations

UNI allows a user to save custom language to its dictionaries to personalize the experience for the user. UNI also remembers your movements to constantly improve its translations.

Product Considerations

UNI is only compatible with English and American Sign Language. If English or ASL are not the primary languages of the intended users, UNI will not be a viable communication option.

Installation

There is no installation required for UNI, just the need to learn its interface and capabilities.

Budget

$$

 

Vision Difficulty

It’s estimated by the CDC that 4.6 percent of Americans have a vision disability. In addition, it’s estimated that 6.5 million Americans over the age of 65 have a severe vision impairment. No matter the age at which vision loss occurs, the possibility of not being able to live an independent lifestyle can be terrifying. Vision difficulties may mean an inability to navigate one’s home, identify safety risks in the home, or detect intruders. Consider these smart home innovations for the vision impaired:

Voice-Controlled Home Entertainment Systems

Individuals with vision impairments still enjoy listening to their favorite television shows, however managing television equipment and interacting with standard visually based interfaces can be impossible. New innovations in entertainment systems offer the visually impaired the ability to change channels with voice commands and listen to a talking guide.

Pros

Independent management of home electronics.

Cons

Functionality is typically limited to search for content, and does not assist with other needs, such as volume or power control.

Product Considerations

Solutions are available from Apple TV, Samsung, and Comcast. The decision for which system to choose may depend on your other home electronics and their compatibility with one another.

Installation

Assistance will be needed to set-up the hardware and, if applicable, integrate the device with the home internet system.

Budget

$$

Also benefits

Those with mobility issues or arthritis.

 

Smart Home Hubs

Devices such as Amazon’s Echo with Alexa, the Apple Home Kit, Google Home, or SmartThings offer home owners the ability to give voice commands in order to access information or control a variety of integrated home devices. For a modest fee, a smart home device can be set up to command a variety of smart home devices, such as home security systems, home entertainment systems, and thermostats, using voice commands – an ideal capability and ultra-convenience for the visually impaired.

With a smart hub, a homeowner with visual impairment could request to hear a summary of the latest news, or ask for a timer or alarm clock to be set. By integrating your smart hub with other smart phone devices, oral commands can be given to lock the doors, turn the television to a specific channel, or turn the lights off in the room. The Amazon Echo retails for about $180, and the Google Home retails for about $120. Additional smart home devices are sold separately.

Pros

Can act as a stand-alone device or as a smart home hub when paired with other compatible smart technology.

Cons

Each hub product is compatible with a different set of smart home devices, so if integration is desired, research will be needed to determine which devices can integrate with one another.

Customizations

For the tech savvy, some smart home hubs can be can be customized further, as the Amazon Echo provides a channel on IFTTT, a free online automation service that lets individuals craft their own automated command preferences using an “if this, then that” logic.

Product Considerations

Depending on your home and interconnectivity needs, plan to research the capabilities of each type of device to choose the brand that suits your needs.

Installation

Setting up a stand-alone smart home device does not require hard wiring or complex integration; however technical assistance may be needed if you intend to customize your smart home hub to help you command other smart home devices.

Budget

$$

Also benefits

Those with mobility issues, or arthritis

 

Smart Braille Watch

The Dot Watch provides the visually impaired with the freedom to communicate and live more independently. It is the first Braille smartwatch and it can connect via Bluetooth to any smartphone, then retrieve and translate text into Braille on the face of the watch, one letter at a time. It can notify the wearer or emails, tweets, or even allow him to read a book, in addition to, of course, telling time. While much less expensive than most braille readers, the Dot Watch will retail, once available, for about $290.

Pros

Allows the wearer to read incoming messages, emails, tweets, and books.

Cons

The Dot Watch is still in production and is only accepting pre-orders. The initial release will only be available in English and Korean.

Customizations

The initial launch will not offer customization.

Product Considerations

The primary consideration for a visually impaired individual considering a Dot Watch is if they would prefer to read messages in braille, or use a device that can speak incoming messages, such as a smart phone or smart home hub.

Installation

Not required.

Budget

$$

 

Speech or Language Difficulty

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), approximately 7.5 million Americans have trouble using their voices. The causes are far-ranging. Spasmodic dysphonia, for example, is a voice disorder caused by involuntary movements of one or more of the muscles in the larynx that can affect anyone. Women between the ages of 30 and 50 are particularly susceptible to the condition. In addition, Laryngeal papillomatosis, a condition in which tumors grow inside the larynx, though rare, can severely impact speech as well. Another cause of speech disability includes cleft palate, the fourth most common birth defect and one that impacts one out of every 700 live births.

Speech disabilities sometimes accompany hearing loss, particularly in cases where an individual is born with a hearing disability, or develops one at a young age, and the development of speech capabilities is impeded. Whether an individual experiences speech disability alone, or it is accompanied by hearing loss, they face unique challenges in managing their day-to-day lives. What follows is a smart home solution for the speech impaired.

Speech Interpretation

Talkitt is an application that helps individuals with speech impediments to better communicate with those around them by translating unintelligible pronunciations into understandable speech. The device works in any language. Currently, the initial device, plus a three-year subscription, can be purchased for $250.

Pros

Allows the hearing impaired to better communicate with others who may not be able to understand them due to a speech impediment.

Cons

Talkitt is not yet available for purchase through traditional retail. It is still in the process of generating funding through Indegogo. Talkitt will require an annual subscription, so after initial purchase, additional fees will apply.

Customizations

Talkitt recognizes patterns in an individual’s speech and creates a personal speech dictionary for the user to produce more accurate translations over time.

Product Considerations

Only one version of Talkitt will be part of the initial launch. In the future, the brand intends to make its application available on desktop computers and wearable devices.

Installation

No installation is required. Talkitt can be downloaded onto any smart phone or tablet.

Budget

$$

 

Cognitive Difficulty

According to the CDC, 10.6 percent of Americans have a cognition disability. Adults 45 to 64 years of age are more likely than any other age group of adults to report a cognition disability. In addition, memory loss, dementia and Alzheimer’s are serious conditions that impact seniors, making it extremely difficult for them to safely live independent lives as their cognitive abilities deteriorate. Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative brain disease and is the most common cause of dementia, a condition characterized by a decline in memory, language, problem-solving and other cognitive skills that impacts an individual’s ability to perform everyday activities. Fortunately, thanks to advances in smart home technology, more seniors and individuals with cognitive disabilities are able to live in their own homes, and more independently, longer. Below are some innovations helping keep those with cognitive difficulty safe and comfortable at home.

Health Monitoring

One of the greatest concerns for patients with cognitive disabilities is the fear that if not properly cared for, they will fail to take proper care of themselves. There are plenty of low-tech Telehealth and other software systems that can help organize medication schedules, but thanks to a new device called Lively, family members and caregivers are able to better monitor those with cognitive disabilities – remotely. With Lively, sensors are placed around the home that learn an individual’s normal routine for such activities as taking medications, sleeping, eating, as well as their typical activity habits. The information is captured by the sensors and interpreted by the Lively Hub where it is sent to a website.

Caregivers and family members can refer to the patient’s Lively web portal to view activity. Most importantly, Lively will ping notifications if it determines abnormal or unsafe activity. Lively sensors can be attached to the refrigerator to ensure the patient is eating properly, to pill bottles to ensure medication is being taken at the right times, or to a set of keys to monitor time out of the house. Currently, the Lively system retails for about $50.

Pros

Thanks to the integration with the Lively Hub, a Wi-Fi connection or home network are not needed.

Cons

Some users have reported inconsistent effectiveness of the device sensors.

Customizations

Lively learns patterns in an individual’s behavior so that if abnormal behavior is identified, caregivers can be alerted.

Product Considerations

Only one version of Lively is available at this time.

Installation

Installation is easy and simply requires set up of the sensors, plug in of the hub, and learning how to interface with the website.

Budget

$

Also benefits

Those with a self-care disability, or mobility issues

 

Key Finders

As memory begins to decline, one of the most common daily frustrations is remembering where important home items have been left, such as house keys. A key finder typically works with a Bluetooth device and can be connected to a smart phone to help identify the location of lost keys. A wide range of products are available that start at $8, and increase to $60.

Pros

Most key finders can be attached to more than just a set of keys to help keep track of a variety of important home items.

Cons

In most cases, if you are caring for someone remotely, you’ll need to be in close proximity to help them locate lost keys using the smart phone paired to the tracking device.

Customizations

Some products offer geofencing, which means you’ll receive an alert if your keys travel outside a pre-set range.

Product Considerations

Some options, such as the Trac Bravo can be integrated with a smart home hub. Also, various products have different ranges, so depending on the size of your home or property, be sure to choose the product that best suits your anticipated needs.

Installation

No installation is required, just pairing with your mobile device.

Budget

$

Also benefits

Those with mobility issues.

 

Ambulatory Difficulty

The CDC estimates that 13 percent of Americans have a mobility disability. Mobility challenges can stem from a variety of causes, including birth defects, amputations, general age-related impairments, or injuries. For someone who has developed an injury, one of their greatest fears is the loss of their freedom, and the worry that they will no longer be able to live independently in their home. A variety of smart home solutions are helping those with mobility issues remain in their homes and live capable, independent lives.

Internet-Connected Electronics

For homes not previously built to accommodate someone who uses a wheelchair, day-to-day activities as simple as turning light switches on and off can become daunting tasks. Now, there are smart home solutions that will connect home electronic systems to the Internet, allowing lights to be controlled from a smartphone. This includes lighting, window blinds, pet feeders, air conditioners, washers and dryers, sprinkler systems, ovens, and thermostats.

Pros

Those with limited mobility can interact with essential home devices from the safety of a wheelchair, or without the fear of a fall.

Cons

For some, the availability of a variety of interconnected devices becomes difficult to manage when each requires the use of a separate mobile phone app. For many, this is the benefit of choosing devices that can integrate with a single smart home hub device.

Customizations

Depending on the device, some can be programmed to perform specific activities at certain times (like turn your bedroom lights on every day at 6 a.m.), or can learn your preferences over time.

Product considerations

A growing number of manufacturers are entering each category of interconnected home electronics. Choosing the product that is right for you will depend on your budget, your needs, and whether or not the device needs to integrate with a smart home hub.

Installation

Installation varies by product. A pet feeder, for example simply needs to be plugged in and tethered to your Wi-Fi, while a sprinkler system will require professional installation.

Budget

$ - $$

Also Benefits

Those with a self-care disability, or arthritis.

 

Door Locks and Security Systems

Smart home locks security systems give individuals with mobility issues the comfort of knowing that they are safe in their own home. A range of products is available. Basic models allow an individual to lock and unlock doors using a smart phone, a convenience for individuals for whom walking across the home to lock and unlock the doors throughout the day can be a challenge.

More sophisticated systems offer more complex home monitoring and capabilities that allow you to turn lights on and off, lock doors, and view video cameras no matter where you are in the world, as long as you are connected to the Internet.

Pros

The convenience and comfort of knowing you can maintain a safe home. Most products integrate seamlessly with most deadbolts. As an additional security feature, you can choose to be notified if your door opens, even if you’re not at home.

Cons

Some smart home security systems require a contract in order to utilize their full surveillance capabilities, so make sure ongoing costs factor into your budget.

Customizations

Some products can be customized with a preferred schedule, so that doors lock and unlock at the same time every day, depending on your needs. You can also set some products to automatically lock your door if it has been unlocked for a predetermined amount of time.

Product Considerations

Depending on your needs and budget, choosing the right product will mean deciding if you simply need to lock and unlock doors using a smart phone in order to accommodate mobility difficulties, or if you need more robust security and surveillance services. In addition, some smart home locks and security features can integrate with other smart products, such as a smart home hub. If integration is essential to your needs, be sure to choose a product that is compatible with other products in your home.

Installation

Depending on the system you choose, you may need both technical set-up assistance, and professional installation.

Budget

$ - $$

Also Benefits

Those with a self-care disability, or arthritis.

 

Motion Controlled Smart Phone

Many smart home devices function with smart phone integration, yet for those who suffer from mobility issues, the ability to use a touch screen may not be possible. To assist those without the control of their hands, the Sesame Phone accepts commands using small head movements tracked with a front-facing camera. Head movements mirror typical touch movement. For example, gesturing to the right tells the device to swipe right. A nod may tell the device to play. The Sesame Phone retails for $1200.

Sesame Phone is only compatible with Android apps.

Pros

Sesame Phone can also function with voice commands

Cons

 

Customizations

By integrating the Sesame Phone with other smart devices, or with a smart hub, the phone can be used for more than just phone calls. It can be used to control other smart home devices, such as home electronics, or the thermostat.

Product Considerations

Sesame currently utilizes the Google Nexus phone for its hardware. If you currently utilize an iPhone that is integrated with other devices, switching to an Android phone may result in other integration issues.

Installation

No set-up is required.

Budget

$$$

Also Benefits

Those with a speech disability.

 

Arthritis

What may seem like an inconvenience, is truly a disability for the millions of people living with the pain and limited mobility that accompanies arthritis. According to the CDC, from 2013 to 2015, an estimated 54.4 million U.S. adults annually have been diagnosed with a form of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, lupus, or fibromyalgia – all conditions that cause severe pain and limited movement, and can make basic household chores a challenge.

While many of the solutions available for individuals with mobility issues can benefit those with Arthritis, such as Internet controlled electronics, in addition, the product below can benefit those living with this chronic pain condition.

Smart Toothbrush

Oral health is important to overall health, yet for individuals living with arthritis, the simple act of vigorously brushing their teeth can be a challenge. Now smart toothbrushes are making oral care easier for those with grip and coordination issues. Smart toothbrushes provide much of the brushing action necessary with less manual movement, helping to ease discomfort for those with joint pain.

Pros

Smart toothbrushes have built-in pressure sensors and timers for optimal oral health.

Cons

Even though most smart toothbrushes are affordable and can fit most budgets, they are more costly than traditional products, take up more space, and require regular charging.

Customizations

Speed settings allow you to accommodate your personal sensitivity needs. In addition, those with an integrated app allow you to optimize your brushing habits.

Product Considerations

A wide range of products are available, at a variety of price points, sizes and weights. Chose the product that fits your budget and is most comfortable in your grip.

Installation

None

Budget

$

Also Benefits

Those with a self-care disability, those with mobility issues.

 

Self-Care/Independent Living Difficulty

It’s estimated that 6.5 percent of Americans have an independent living disability, and 3.6 percent of Americans have a self-care disability. For those struggling with such disabilities challenges may range from an inability to dress oneself, to an inability to grocery shop, run errands, or take oneself to the doctor. Of particular concern for seniors, self-care disabilities may be accompanied by cognitive, ambulatory, hearing, or vision disabilities, further necessitating the support for accommodations and devices that can enable one to live a more independent life, at home, for as long as possible.

Assistance Applications

Assist-Mi is an assistance application that helps disabled individuals to get assistance in real-time by connecting service providers and caregivers with disabled individuals who may need transportation at a moment’s notice. For individuals with a self-care disability, assist-Mi enables them to find a nearby caregiver who can assist with the types of activities they are unable to do on their own, such as traveling to work, going shopping, or running errands.

Pros

Improves the daily lives of people with a self-care disability by connecting them with nearby caregivers. The app also provides a directory of accessible nearby service providers, such as retailers and facilities for convenient reference.

Cons

The app works by connecting the disabled with nearby caregivers. If you live in a more rural area, your options for nearby caregivers may be limited. Similarly, depending on the time you need assistance, there may not be someone nearby available to assist.

Customizations

Smart location-based technologies personalize the experience so that those in need are paired with nearby caregivers. In addition, a user can create a custom profile and save personal preferences.

Product Considerations

Assist-Mi primarily enables individuals with disabilities to obtain transportation assistance. If in-home care is the primary concern, such needs may be beyond the scope of the assist-Mi application.

Installation

None

Budget

$ The app is free from the iTunes App Store and Google Play Marketplace.

Also Benefits

Those with mobility issues, the vision impaired.

 

Wi-Fi Enabled Refrigerators

While the most advanced refrigerators offer the average, able-bodied individual convenience, for those with self-care needs, they offer a much-needed health benefit. The most advanced models of Wi-Fi refrigerators have built in cameras that allow you to see what’s inside the refrigerator without opening the door. You can also leave notes and appointment reminders on the refrigerator’s front digital display – a convenience for those who may also suffer from memory loss.

Perhaps the most impressive of all, smart refrigerators will keep track of your re-stock needs and allow you to send a grocery list directly to a participating grocery store (such as Whole Foods, Fresh Direct, or Shop Rite), for delivery right to your door. Such conveniences enable home-bound individuals to be able to remain well cared for in their own home.

Pros

Thanks to the re-order and delivery functionality, home bound individuals don’t need to be reliant upon caregivers to help restock their food.

Cons

Not every grocery store offers online ordering and delivery. Depending on where you live, the ability to re-order products may not be feasible.

Customizations

For products with built-in on-screen apps, you can keep track of notes, calendar items, appointments, and grocery needs, helping you to personalize the product and its use.

Product Considerations

Budget may be the biggest consideration when choosing a smart refrigerator, since product features and installation costs range greatly, even more so than installing standard appliances. In addition, some brands integrate with smart home hubs. If you need to integrate your refrigerator with your smart home hub, be sure to choose a compatible system.

Installation

Assistance will be needed to bring the large refrigerator into the home. Depending on your technical aptitude, you may need assistance pairing it to your Wi-Fi and setting your preferences.

Budget

$$$ While a variety of products are available with features that range in complexity, most costs range from $1300 to $6000.

Also Benefits

Those with mobility or cognitive disabilities, those with arthritis.

 

Additional Resources

For some, the addition of a few smart devices into the home could make all the difference needed to live independently. For others, the greater need is for a more integrated and robust use of the IoT to make a wider variety of home activities feasible. For still others, depending on their needs and the complexities of their disability, what is needed to keep them in the home where they belong may be a fully customized environment.

Organizations do exist that are helping to build custom smart homes for the disabled, including veterans, seniors, and families with a special needs child. While a custom home requires the most significant of funding considerations, there are organizations helping to make such projects affordable. If a fully customized smart home is what you need, explore the resources below:

TechHomes.com – Offers a state-by-state directory of smart home communities, builders, and resources.

RISE – Founded by actor Gary Sinese, RISE (Restoring Independence Supporting Empowerment), builds adaptive homes for disabled veterans.

Hive – Offers a series of interconnected smart devices that can be integrated with one another to create an end-to-end smart home living environment. Hive products can be retrofitted into existing homes, or installed into custom builds.