I'm from Birmingham, England, where I am an electrician with an interest in hobby electronics.
Home Automation For Accessibility
Home automation systems offer a wide range of excellent features that can make anyone's life easier and more enjoyable. But this is especially important in the case of disabled or elderly people who have particular accessibility concerns for their home.
When most people think about home accessibility technology, they typically get about as far as stair lifts and easy-access showers or baths. Perhaps they also think of a few handrails, moving the position of light switches, and that's about it. But with today's technology there is much, much more that you can do.
From using your phone as a control system to replace any switches that are difficult to reach, to automatic doors and electric cabinet tracks, this article provides an overview of some of the best home automation technology.
Lighting Controls and Modifications
The most obvious home automation technology to mention is lighting control. This is usually the starting point for any home automation system, and there is a very wide range of products and solutions out there which you can use to upgrade your home's lighting system without spending a fortune.
The ability to control your lights via a remote control or smartphone app is an excellent tool for anybody who has mobility problems or trouble reaching light switches. If this is all you want, then you can do it for a very low price as well. Both Insteon and LightwaveRF sell a "remote controlled light bulb." Both products are low energy bulbs with a long lifespan, which can be bought with a small remote control and require no set up other than replacing your regular bulb with the networked version. These bulbs can be used in floor lamps as well as ceiling lights. For a little bit of extra spend you can buy a WiFi connected controller that will let you use an app on your smartphone to control your lighting. If you want to control all of the lights in your house then this is well worth buying.
For people with impaired vision a simple solution which can be invaluable is to add a small light sensor and low energy LED lamp to your switches. This is then set to illuminate your switches when it starts to get dark, so that you can find and use them more easily. You can buy switches with these features already integrated for around £7 or $10 each - check out the picture to the right for an example.
Other useful lighting solutions include the ability to have lights turn off automatically when you leave the room, or to turn on automatically when you enter a room - although the latter does also require light sensors and a little extra set-up to prevent the lights coming on during the day when they aren't needed.
Retrofit Automatic Door Opening Systems
For people who use a wheelchair, as well as others who have mobility problems, opening doors can be a hassle. Of course it is possible, but it is difficult - and unnecessarily so given that an automatic opening system can easily be fitted to any door which you have in your home.
In domestic settings an automatic door is slightly different from the type that we all come across in our daily lives at the entrances of public buildings, shops, offices and so on. Usually these commercial systems use a sensor to detect when a person is approaching the door, and then open the door for them. In your home this probably wouldn't work very well, because you may want to go close to your door without actually going through it - so you don't want it opening and closing all the time for no reason. A powered door opening system for the home should either be controlled by a wall mounted switch, or connected to a control system to allow you to open and close the door using an app.
Automatic Curtains and Blinds
Blinds and drapery can be slightly more expensive to control electronically than your lighting, but the added expense can be well worth it. A system which includes both lighting and drapery control also opens up the possibility to program "scenes," which means you can have a single switch button or app icon to perform multiple functions—for example closing the blinds or curtains and switching on the lights with a single button, or even opening the curtains a switching on the TV together in the morning!
Buying electric blinds is usually the cheapest option, but if you are attached to your drapery then you can easily have an electric drapery track fitted which can be used with any curtains and can be controlled via a wall mounted switch or through a controller and app.
Wireless Socket Control
Everybody knows that leaving your appliances on standby adds money to your electricity bill. It is therefore best to turn things off at the wall at the end of the day to prevent waste and save money. But what if reaching down to the socket behind your TV is a difficult or impossible task? Wireless socket control is the answer.
There are several solutions out there which allow you to switch off your sockets wirelessly. You can buy sockets with this functionality built in and a remote control included with the purchase from many places like Amazon, or you can use a system such as LightwaveRF which includes this feature and also adds, you guessed it, the ability to control your sockets from a phone app.
Opening the door to visitors can be difficult for several different groups of people. Those with hearing impairments may not be able to hear a doorbell, while those with mobility challenges may find it difficult or painful to get to the front door to open it.
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A networked door entry system and wireless lock combine to offer an excellent solution. A good quality home automation controller can be combined with a video intercom and wireless lock so that you get a phone alert when somebody rings your doorbell, and you can then speak to them via the intercom and let them in with a simple tap of the screen. For people with hearing impairments this means that they can get a tactile vibration alert from their phone when somebody comes to the door, and for those with mobility issues it also means that you can open the door without having to move anywhere.
But the best part about this system is the fact that if somebody drops by while you are out, you can still see who is there and even talk to them from using intercom from anywhere in the world! Personally I think that is very cool, and is an excellent example of a system which doesn't just solve the problems faced by disabled people by letting them do what anybody else would take for granted, but actually improves on what everybody else has with features that will make all of your friends and neighbours jealous!
An IP Video Intercom Demonstration
Many wheelchair users find reaching up to things difficult. Kitchen cupboards is a classic example. But simply moving everything down to a lower level introduces a new problem - how do you fit everything you need into the available space. Powered cupboards is an excellent solution for people who can reach their kitchen counter, but can't reach up into cupboards located above it.
All you do it fit an electric track onto your wall, and you can then fit any cupboard onto the track allowing it to move up or down. This means that you can lower it down to the surface of your counter to get things out of the cupboard, but then raise it up afterwards to get your counter space back!
Monitoring and Alerts
For frail and elderly people, anybody prone to accidents, and a wide range of other groups, an electronic monitoring and alert system can be life-saving. There is such a wide variety of systems out there that it is difficult to go into any depth here, but the basic idea is for an electronic system to monitor the well-being of the house's occupant and contact relatives or emergency services automatically if there is a problem.
Imagine having your own house constantly keeping an eye out for you to make sure that everything's okay, and taking action on your behalf if anything happens!
This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Tim Shriver on August 10, 2015:
Home Automated Living offers a free introductory version call HALbasic available at www.automatedliving.com HAL software allows for control of lights, appliances, telephone, thermostats, doors, beds, security, curtains, blinds, home theater and more all by voice, web, telephone or smartphone!
Dean Walsh (author) from Birmingham, England on November 13, 2013:
You're right, I'm always amazed and delighted by the evolution of technology.
Denise W Anderson from Bismarck, North Dakota on November 13, 2013:
This is really interesting! It is great to keep in mind for when my husband and I get older in the future, but also, if we have an elderly parent come to live with us. It is amazing what is available now versus a few years ago. Thanks!
JG11Bravo on November 13, 2013:
I'm fascinated with home automation. My girlfriend and I are both techy people and latched onto this stuff in recent years, so its great to have so much information close at hand. Thank you.