How Smart Technology Can Benefit an Accessible Home

One in four people has some form of disability. Whether the disability deals with mobility, cognition, hearing, vision, or other, accessibility within the home is crucial to meeting the needs and requirements of those who inhabit it. 

Smart technology and its continuous advancements have the capability to transform an average home into a connected home, one that can benefit residents with any kind of disability. Learning how to implement smart technology into a home is the best way to make the most of these innovations. 

Who Does Smart Technology Benefit? 

As we mentioned, about 26% of adults in the United States live with some kind of disability. That’s about 61 million people living with disabilities related to mobility, cognition, independent living, hearing, vision, and self-care. 

Smart technology, when used properly and sometimes creatively, can benefit each of those individuals; perhaps you’re wondering if you are one of them or know someone who might be impacted positively by the addition of smart technology in an accessible home. 

Disabilities have proven to be particularly poignant in three groups: adults over 65 years of age, women, and non-Hispanic American Indians or Alaska Natives. 

Adults 65+ with Disabilities 

To break this down further, 2 in 5 adults over the age of 65 have a disability. However, nearly 40% of adults over 65 live alone. That being said, given the high rate of reports concerning difficulty hearing and seeing, poor oral health, chronic conditions, and obesity in this age group, there are assumptions we can make regarding certain difficulties that come into play. 

Everyday tasks for this age group can become more challenging as time goes on, but when you add in disability, they quickly become even more difficult. Smart technology has been said by many experts, including the U.S. Department of Energy, to improve lifestyle functioning in many ways. 

Adults 65 or older with a disability are more likely to need additional help to complete everyday tasks. Smart technology not only keeps them safe within their own homes but also allows them to maintain a semblance of independence where they might not have before. 

Rather than requiring an in-home nurse to remind an individual to take crucial medications, a smart home can serve as an invaluable reminder tool. Voice-controlled technology prevents the need to move in cases where mobility is questionable or impossible. Cameras and alerts serve as eyes and ears for those who struggle with sound and sight. 

Even more so, a lot of smart technology is easy to control. Instead of fiddling with touch screens and confusing instructions, most devices only require your voice to use. It’s easy for an elderly individual with a disability to ask their smart device to turn on or off, tell them the weather, or remind them of important appointments and dates – all just by talking to it. 

Types of Technology

This ever-evolving world of technology expands every day to provide people with convenience and necessity alike. While the United States contains approximately 6.6 million homes that are considered livable for people with moderate mobility difficulties, only about 1.3 of them are occupied by individuals who actually have a physical disability. 

Newer homes are becoming more accessible, but they are also, on average, more expensive than homes that are older and less accessible. 

That being said, smart technology not only benefits homes designed to be accessible but can improve the living situations of those with a disability who are not residing in an accessible home. 

What kind of technology can have such a positive impact on those who need it most? 

Photo by Bence Boros

Voice Assistants 

Voice assistants are smart devices that often connect the other smart devices within the home. They serve as a central hub, making it easy to control various aspects of a residence with plain voice commands. 

Some voice assistants such a Google Home or Amazon Alexa have a wide variety of capabilities, depending on the other smart accessories in the house. At their simplest, these devices can make phone calls, play music, report on the weather and news, connect to radio stations, answer simple questions, and more. 

They can also be used to remind residents of important things, such as what time an individual needs to take medication or reminders for doctors’ appointments. Such reminders can prove to be crucial in cognitive disabilities, which make up 10.8% of all disabilities.

In more advanced smart technology, voice assistants can control things like electronic door locks, lights within the home, video chats, thermostats, and alarm systems. The possibilities are seemingly endless and prove to be beneficial components to those living with a disability. 

Photo by Andres Urena 

Cameras and Sensors 

According to the FBI, there were about 1.4 million burglaries in 2017 in America. Someone living with a disability is at greater risk when it comes to break-ins, given that they may not have the means or ability to protect themselves, see who’s at the front door, or even hear when a door has been opened. 

Smart technology often implements the use of cameras and sensors that alert residents to certain movements or activities. Specialized smart doorbells send alerts to your phone when someone is standing outside of your door, as well as additional alerts for when the doorbell is rung, when there’s motion detected on the property, and when a door has opened or closed. 

These types of sensors are especially helpful to elderly individuals, handicapped individuals who cannot easily or quickly access the front door, deaf individuals, and more. 

Motion sensors also come in handy in terms of lighting. Both indoor and outdoor sensor lights turn on when they detect motion, which can alert a resident to movement inside and outside of the home. This same tactic can be used in reverse, alerting loved ones to a lack of movement of the resident. 

Photo by Sebastian Scholz

Smart Lights

13.7% of disabilities have to do with mobility, which can range from serious difficulty walking and climbing stairs to paralyzed individuals. Everyday things such as turning on lights can become challenging or even hazardous, making the use of smart lights in an accessible home a significant improvement to the quality of life. 

Smart lights use voice control as their main mode of operation. They are simple to use and require straightforward commands such as on, off, and dim. Residents can operate smart lights in their home from the safety of the couch, their bed, or a wheelchair. 

Smart lights can mean the difference between a fall out of bed, an injury involving stairs, or simply over-exerting oneself. 

Leak Sensors

Smart technology within the home has even extended to maintenance-type help with products like leak sensors. Those living with a disability may not be able to perform proper home maintenance checks, making things like smart leak sensors a helpful tool.

Leak sensors monitor not only for leaks, but can also be set to check household taps for running water. They will alert residents if a faucet has been left on, which can eliminate the risk of water damage, flooding, and increased utility bills. They can also be set to automatically shut off taps. 

Communication and Monitoring

One of the main concerns of loved ones of those with a disability is their ability to check in on them to make sure they’re safe, healthy, and secure. Smart technology allows for relatives, friends, and even medical professionals to keep an eye on individuals with a disability. This is especially comforting when the individual lives alone. 

Some voice assistants allow for certain specified contacts the ability to simply “drop in,” letting them check in on someone who requires varying levels of monitoring. Likewise, administrators of these technologies can set up various alerts should something go wrong. 

Smart technology makes communication easy. For example, someone who uses a wheelchair can use voice activation to make an emergency call if they experience a fall. Video calls are excellent resources for deaf or mute individuals who communicate via Sign Language. 

Photo by Georg Arthur Pflueger

Sound Detection

Deafness or serious hearing impairment makes up about 5.9% of disabilities. Lack of hearing can cause impactful challenges and even impose dangerous situations on individuals, especially those who live alone. 

However, a lack of hearing does not – and should not – prevent individuals from taking part in everyday activities; it can simply make them more difficult. 

Various smart technology has the specified ability to pick up certain soundwaves to aid users with impaired hearing. Individuals can program these smart technologies within their homes to hear things like a baby crying, fire alarms, doorbells, and more. Upon recognizing one of the programmed sounds, it will alert the user via their smartphone or another device. 

Technology like this makes it possible for deaf individuals to live alone, be active parents, work from a home office, and feel safe and secure on their own. 

Legal Obligations 

It’s easy to say that everyone deserves to have a safe and accessible home, but certain laws ensure that those with disabilities have access to such things. Disabled renters, for example, are entitled to certain rights that protect them as they search for a suitable dwelling. 

Who Does the Law Consider Disabled?

Any individual who has a physical or mental impairment that significantly hinders major activities is recognized by law as someone who is disabled. This includes someone who had a disability in the past and no longer has it as well as someone who currently has a disability. 

Some of the most common disabilities included under the law are the following: 

  • Mobility impairments
  • Hearing impairments
  • Visual impairment
  • Chronic alcoholism (if being treated through a recovery program)
  • Mental illness
  • HIV, AIDS, AIDS-related complications
  • Mental retardation 

Those above and others with different disabilities have certain rights and legal protection when it comes to finding and renting accessible housing. 

Photo by Kevia Tan

Laws & Acts

Both renters and landlords have various laws and protections put in place concerning disabilities. The Fair Housing Act, for example, protects renters in terms of discrimination against race, color, nationality, religion, sex, familial status, and, of course, disability. 

Because of this act, a landlord cannot refuse to rent to someone who has a disability, such as a wheelchair.  

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 serves to prohibit discrimination in federal programs on the basis of disability. Certain areas of this act specifically refer to housing and place requirements on federally assisted accessible housing. New multifamily construction is also required to include a certain percentage of accessible apartments. 

Finally, the Americans with Disabilities Act, or the ADA, requires public places to get rid of any barriers for accessibility when not imposing a financial burden. It specifically applies to multifamily housing. 

Rights and Responsibilities of Renters

All renters, firstly, have the right to live a life free from discrimination. Secondly, as renters with disabilities, they also have the right to request accommodations, so long as they are reasonable. These requests can include accessible apartment units and complaints filed with the Department of Housing. 

Disabled renters are also allowed to make modifications to their living unit or public space within a complex. They should also expect their landlords to make adjustments within reason to rules and services. 

These adjustments apply not only to physical changes of the property but other aspects such as payment schedules and service animals. 

It is the responsibility of the renter to provide their landlord with proof of a disability when the disability is not obvious. 

Rights and Responsibilities of Landlords

The rights and responsibilities of landlords and property managers go hand in hand with those of the rents. First and foremost, landlords must comply with all Fair Housing laws and ensure that their property is ADA compliant. They are not allowed to deny applications based on disabilities and cannot discriminate based on the source of income.

Landlords also cannot ask an applicant or a renter if they have a disability. However, when specific accommodations are requested, they can ask for proof of a disability if it is not obvious. 

That being said, the landlord does have the right to request payments to cover the cost of damages caused by service animals as well as modifications to the unit. They also have the right to ask for payment to restore a unit before moving out.

More Resources:

Rupert Pople

Rupert is the founder of this website and a smart home tech enthusiast fascinated by the power of connected devices. Within his Business Management (BSc) degree at the University of Nottingham, he studied the technological impact of the Internet of Things.

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