Smart assistive technology options at home

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Assistive technology (AT) can be installed to help with all kinds of tasks at home and home automation is becoming more and more popular. With demand, the range of products available is growing, while the ingenuity of new technologies and the affordability of the products are improving.

Key points

  • Assistive technology (AT) installed at home has the potential to not only make life easier but also give you more independence
  • There are opportunities to use smart home AT which most people are unaware of
  • An occupational therapist can help you to investigate what products will work for you

Smart home devices are being seen in many homes. They can be part of effective AT and don’t have to be specifically designed for people with disability for them to be helpful.

What is smart assistive technology for the home?

Assistive technology is any physical device that helps you to do something more easily or safely, or to overcome a barrier related to your disability.

In the home, AT makes your space more livable and gives you more independence.

The ‘smart home’ side of AT simply refers to the latest integrated technology used in both the homes of people with disability and people without disability for efficiency, safety, security and accessibility.

According to an Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute Limited report released in December 2021, Impacts of new and emerging assistive technologies for ageing and disabled housing, smart home technologies support independence, social and community connectedness, improved physical and mental health outcomes and better quality of life.

The report found the average smart home AT costs were approximately $700 to $800 per household over five years.

But the report also noted a lack of knowledge by people who could benefit from smart home AT in what products are available and effective, as well as how the technology can be funded.

There are lots of types of assistive technology that can assist people with disability, so we’ve outlined some of the more common devices and systems below.

Adapted devices for everyday tasks

Smart home technology comes in many formats which support people with mobility impairment or chronic illnesses that affect energy levels.

Automated house systems are the basis of most of these options as appliances, electronic devices and motorised furnishings can all be controlled from a centralised point, usually a tablet.

These systems can be set up to be used for daily activities such as:

  • Putting motorised blinds up and down to control the light in the house
  • Opening and closing motorised windows
  • Controlling the air conditioning or heating system or remote control fans
  • Opening and closing automated doors
  • Turning on or off and programming smart home appliances – everything from kettles to televisions to washing machines
  • Turning on and off lights

Some kinds of AT can be joined to an automated house system or exist on their own.

These include smartphone applications to control automated blinds, doors and lights, video intercoms to your front door so that you can see and communicate with visitors before deciding to let them in and alarms for the security of your home or emergencies.

A voice assistant device can also be linked to your automated systems so that you can control them with voice commands. Better known by brand names such as the Google Home or Amazon Echo, a voice assistant can set alarms, reminders, timers, note down your shopping lists and also carry out internet searches.

In another digitised system, switches on power points can be replaced by smart power points, which either operate through touching the sensor to turn it on and off, through an application on your phone or tablet or even through voice command if you have a voice assistant. Smart power points can be a great safety and efficiency feature as all the plugs in the house can be monitored and controlled through a central point, and you can even turn them off when you are out of the house.

Sensor-based devices can be a lower cost form of AT to fully automate your house, for example, lights that turn on when they sense motion rather than requiring a switch to be flipped.

One touch controls on showers, sinks and cooktops are another cost effective safety installation if motor skills are challenging for you or if you have trouble with setting temperatures. With these devices, a temperature can be digitally set and all you have to do is touch the sensor to start the water flow or cooktop heating.

Adapted sensory devices

In the security category, many kinds of adapted alarms can be part of smart home AT. These include alarms that alert the resident of the home through flashing lights or vibrations, for people who are hard of hearing or Deaf, or alert the person with vibrations or sounds for those who have sight impairments.

Alarm technology now often connects to a mobile phone so that as long as a person is carrying their phone they can be notified by smoke alarms, security alarms or door alarms/doorbells.

For people who are blind or have a visual impairment, there are also phone applications that work with smart home systems to send a notification if the lights are still on when you leave the house.

A voice assistant can be helpful in an automated home to use modifications via voice activation without needing to find switches or dials. For example, to control the temperature of the air conditioning or heating which may have originally been designed for a person to operate by sight.

Voice assistant devices can also play music on command or link with speakers in the home for accessible sound-based entertainment.

What to consider

While smart home AT appears to be the way of the future, there are a few aspects to consider before you apply for funding or purchase AT for your home. Buying the right product is important because you want your home to be as comfortable as possible and it’s not sustainable to be buying replacement AT every few years.

Some AT purchase, repair, replacement and maintenance costs may be covered under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) if they are considered reasonable and necessary. For example, if you can prove that the installation of AT in your home will remove the need for a support worker for specific tasks and therefore reduce the funding you need in your plan this is likely to help you acquire funding.

Before you get NDIS funding for a specific AT product you might also need an assessment done by an allied health practitioner or similar professional, depending on how expensive the AT is and the level of risk posed by the product. More information on these details is available on the NDIS website.

Funding may also come from State Governments for some home modifications, but the funding for most assistive technology outside of the NDIS is focused on health, education and work supports and is unlikely to cover smart home technology.

If you need advice on what products might help you at home, the costs or how to get funding you can discuss it with an occupational therapist.

Here are some questions to think about and talk through with your occupational therapist:

  • Will the technology require modifications to my home? For example, will you need to have your doorways widened to be able to install automated doors?
  • Will I be able to use the technology alone?
  • Will I need someone to teach me how to use the technology and who could do that?
  • Will I need someone to install the technology for me and will that add to the cost?
  • Will the technology require any ongoing costs? For example – will running the AT add to the electricity bill and is that cost manageable?
  • Will any other products I have work together with this AT? For example – if you have a particular brand of mobile phone is it best to get a tablet to control your automated appliances which matches your phone so that they connect more easily?
  • Does the product represent value for money – is it good quality but available at a reasonable price?
  • Will the product come with a warranty and how does that warranty compare to other similar products of a different brand?
  • When is an update for the product likely to be available and will you need to pay for updates?

To find providers of AT you can search the Disability Support Guide’s technology section here.

Do you use assistive technology in your home? Tell us in the comments below.

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