Updated December 11, 2020, with new OrCam technology.
Technology consumes our world. From the time we wake up until the time we go to bed, we interact with screens and devices almost 24/7. The onset of tech gave us new ways to connect with old friends and family living across the globe. It has made travel safer, more efficient, and cost-effective (in most instances). Now with Google Home and Amazon Echo, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has taken form in the most intimate place in our lives – the home.
To some, these gadgets are viewed as invasive to our privacy. And though Amazon has taken a tussle with major news outlets on this topic, no one really seems to be deserting Alexa. Why? Because Alexa has become a part of our home just as much as television and radio. And to people living with disabilities, Alexa is an integral part of daily life.
Conversation with a Computer
Conversational AI is the bread and butter of how the Echo (Alexa) and Google Home allow us to communicate with objects in the home. Smart homes are made up of devices that connect to Echoes, Google Homes, and other smart home systems to automatically turn on/off lights, arm security systems, turn on the shower, and so many others. For someone living with a disability where simple daily tasks are difficult, this technology allows them to remain living independently.
Companies have realized the demand for smart homes. Industry leaders like Kohler, Delta and Moen have stepped up to the plate, creating fully automated fixtures for the bathroom and kitchen. Kohler Konnect enables the user to personalize and automate their daily routines all through voice and motion control.
Extra Set of (Auto) Hands
The bathroom system features controlling the toilet, lighting, shower, and bathtub. Kohler’s promotional video shows one user talking into the mirror, saying, “Start Nadia’s morning routine.” The voice control then activates the room – the shower turns on and adjusts to the right temperature and the lights flash on. Another user activates his “chill time” where the bathroom lighting changes to a serene blue, the bathtub begins filling and the toilet lid automatically lifts. It doesn’t stop here; they have a multitude of products for every piece of your bathroom.
Pan the camera to the kitchen and Kohler Konnect continues its innovation. The Sensate Faucet is motion and voice-controlled. Commands such as “fill spaghetti pot” or “fill to eight ounces” turn the faucet on and dispenses the correct amount of water for whichever container you are filling. You can also use motion sensors to turn the water on by waving your hand in front of the faucet.
Moen and Delta offer their own version of voice-activated and motion-sense control systems. Nests are another automated device used in smart homes. The company produces an array of innovative security systems and thermostats. The biggest product here is their thermostats, which can be controlled by your mobile device. It can be programmed to automatically adjust the temperature at different times of the day as well.
Smart Homes, More Than a Luxury
All of this technology allows luxury and simplicity in the home. For someone unable to physically turn on the shower in the morning or has difficulty turning on the lights, this technology gives them a new sense of freedom. They now have the ability to complete everyday tasks with ease and independence.
One man, who is quadriplegic, explained to NBC News how smart home technology has empowered him and helped him regain independence. He specifically uses Apple’s HomeKit and Switch Control on his iPhone to control everything from answering the door, adjusting the lights and window shades to running his own IT consulting business.
Voice and motion control suggest the height of an automated home. However, what if you are unable to speak? There’s still a solution. Tecla created a device called the Tecla-e which bridges the gap between Conversational AI and those who are unable to use verbal commands. You can use the companion app to create a text query that will then control Amazon’s Alexa. Text-to-speech software will also work in communicating with Alexa.
Giving More than (in)Sight
New technology has emerged to help those who are visually impaired as well. OrCam is a device that clips onto a pair of glasses. The USB flash-drive-sized camera sees the world for you and reports it back to you in real-time. For those who have low vision or are legally blind, you can ask the camera to read you a sign or tell you what or who is in front of you. With a visual-heavy world, this is groundbreaking to someone with little or no vision.
From reading a menu to reading a book, to know if there is a chair or coffee cup in front of you, to recognize a loved one without announcing themselves, the OrCam makes the inaccessible, sight-led world more accessible. And for veterans covered by the Veterans Affairs health coverage, eligible candidates may have the opportunity to receive an OrCam at no cost.
An Accessible World
Our world is changing with technology. It’s giving people with disabilities the opportunity to experience everyday life the same as those without mobility challenges. Accessibility is becoming more mainstream than ever. Even if you have full mobility, by using this technology in your own home, you are creating a visitable environment accessible to all ability levels.