Blog > February 2020 > How the IoT Revolution Can Help People with Disabilities

How the IoT Revolution Can Help People with Disabilities

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The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the ways in which modern life connects. In today’s world, most things connect, in some way, to the internet. This means that data can be collected and exchanged in responsive ways, and technology can serve the population like never before.

IoT technologies provide a range of solutions to common problems faced by members of the popular, and they can be particularly helpful for users with disabilities, enabling new and innovative access and independence solutions.

What Does it Mean?

IoT makes information and data sharing easy and is behind what we call “smart” technology. Smart technology relies on connection to function. Rather than storing information, smart technologies send and receive information from larger digital storage devices.

Streaming is a good example of IoT. When we watch television using streaming services, we don’t watch programs that are stored on our smart devices. Our smart devices are connected to the world around them and can send requests for programs to the digital places that they are stored, then receive them for us to view.

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How Can IoT Improve Accessibility?

IoT can be hugely beneficial to people with disabilities, helping to address access limitations in a range of ways.

Smart homes and home automation systems are rising in prevalence and popularity in the general population, because automation is extremely helpful in reducing burdens on time and energy. But for people with disabilities, smart homes have much more meaningful implications. Smart homes can offer the solution to independent and accessible lifestyles.

Smart home devices are becoming more and more sophisticated, and they are now able to serve most common home devices and appliances. Devices can be connected to speakers, fridges and ovens, phones, lights, alarm systems, and more. People with physical disabilities are able to rely on automated systems to perform tasks that they once may have needed to rely on carers to complete, meaning that independence is much more possible. Smart home devices can turn the lights on and off, play music, manage alarm systems, and so on.

For people with vision impairments, home automation can be incredibly helpful. Voice assistants are entering the mainstream and can be used to control a range of devices. Increasingly, IoT solutions, such as embedded neural implants, apps, and smart glasses, are being developed to provide environmental context, which means that technological devices can describe to their owners what they ‘see.’

Some IoT devices are tactile, which is an important step in improving communication options for people who are deafblind.

In some locations, IoT systems are beginning to be used publicly as safety devices. Crosswalk is a Dutch IoT system that uses traffic light sensors to identify people with disabilities who may need longer periods of time to cross busy roads, then communicating with an app to maintain the green man signal for longer.

Products and Services that Can be Helpful for People with Disabilities

Smart Hubs and Speakers

Amazon Echo

Amazon is among the most popular smart home providers. Amazon offers a range of smart home technologies including vacuums, kitchen appliances, thermostats, security systems, printers and computers, speakers and televisions, lighting, and more. These devices can be verbally controlled using the Amazon Echo, which can be customised with routine and schedule information. Amazon offers a range of different Echo systems, all of which go by “Alexa.” Some of Amazon’s Echo systems are specifically tailored to user demographics. There’s even an Echo Dot system designed for child users (and the setting of parental controls).

Google Home

Google Home is a hands-free home assistant that can provide answers to verbally dictated questions (by searching the web), play music, and control smart home devices. Google Home systems can be personalised with schedule information, reminders, and voice recognition. They work with smart home devices including lights, home security systems, temperature regulation systems, entertainment systems, home electronics, computer devices, robot cleaning devices, and more.

Apple HomeKit

The Apple HomeKit is a software system that allows users to communicate smart home appliances. Apple offers a range of HomeKit add-on devices and accessories, including light systems, water controllers, temperature regulation systems, and door and window sensors. All of these and more can be controlled verbally through the Apple HomePod speaker, which works in conjunction with voice assistant Siri.

Samsung SmartThings

SmartThings is Samsung’s answer to a smart home hub. SmartThings can connect wirelessly to and synch a range of smart home devices. It can automate connected devices in accordance with predetermined routines, which means that users can set consistent morning or night schedules for lights and appliances. SmartThings hubs need to connect with the SmartThings app, which available for free on Android or iPhone devices.

Home Systems and Devices

Lights, Plugs, and Thermostats

Many people with physical disabilities struggle to reach home light switches. Smart light bulbs and systems connect with smart home hubs and can be set to switch on and off in accordance with voice commands and/or timed schedules. Similarly, smart plugs can be set up to operate lamps and other electric appliances via smart hub systems, and smart thermostats can be set to remember specified temperatures, which is particularly helpful for people with disabilities that prevent them from easily using mainstream heating or cooling systems or whose disabilities affect body temperature regulation. Smart ceiling fans are also available.

Cleaning

Robotic vacuum cleaners can be very helpful for people with fatigue or physical disabilities or chronic illnesses that prevent them from using traditional vacuum cleaners. There ae a range of robot-vacuums in the market. Smart essential oil diffusers are also becoming increasingly popular. These can sometimes double as humidifiers, and while they cannot self-refill, they can be switched on and off using smart home hub voice commands.

Security

There are many smart home security solutions. Smart locks can eliminate the need to use dead locks, which can be difficult for people with certain disabilities to use. They can be controlled digitally, and access can be granted to certain users at specified time using smartphone apps.
Smart security cameras come in a range of varieties and are compatible with all major smart home hubs. Many smart security systems have in-built microphone technologies that enable users to communicate with people near them.

Sunrise Medical provides a range of mobility solutions that could be of benefit to someone you know, check out the full product range at www.SunriseMedical.com.au