“Alexa play my favorite song,” is a phrase many households are familiar with, especially as smart devices become more widely available. During the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone quickly had to adapt to using technology in new ways. Whether it was working from home, online school, or hosting virtual family gatherings, each one of us used technology more frequently during the pandemic. Even after the pandemic has passed, some of the new ways we have used technology will likely stick around. Technology can be a great tool to assist individuals with disabilities reach their highest potential.
As American Businessman and Investor Steve Ballmer said, “The number one benefit of information technology is that it empowers people to do what they want to do. It lets people be creative. It lets people be productive. It lets people learn things they didn’t think they could learn before, and so in a sense it is all about potential.”
While technology might be an added benefit to many individuals, it can truly be a game changer for some and create a more accessible environment. For adults who are aging, technology may allow them to maintain independence and get caregivers to ensure safety is maintained no matter the environment. It can also help with isolation, which has been a challenge especially during the pandemic. The goal with accessibility should also be to help the individual access their daily environment without added unnecessary barriers. Everyone deserves to have an accessible environment no matter the disability or circumstances.
It is important to note that assistive technology, which is usually equated with expensive devices, also includes any items that help an individual access their environment. This can be something as simple as reading glasses to help when reading a newspaper with small print. Fortunately, assistive technology does not always have to be costly. There are many devices you may already have in your home that could be of assistance to an adult who is aging. When an individual thinks creatively about how to use various smart devices or technology, it may open another door to accessibility. As Thomas Edison once said, “Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless.”
Smart devices such as Alexa or Google Echo, have reached to the top of some lists as great devices for people who are aging. While they can be great for playing your favorite song, they can also serve as a resource for adults who are aging. Although it’s always best to check with your medical providers, here is a list of some smart devices and the ways they can be helpful for adults who are aging:
- Voice command devices: Turning the lights off and on by using a voice command could potentially decrease the risk of falls or injuries that can occur in dark rooms or at night. Calling a caregiver by using a voice command, which allows the individual to make a call quickly especially without having to worry about locating the phone
- Volume control: Smart devices can be adjusted to higher volumes than a typical cell phone which may aid those who have hearing difficulties.
- Organization: Set reminders for medication or appointments by utilizing smart devises and with a voice command.
- Lists: Creating shopping or “to do” lists, which can be helpful for adults who may have trouble remembering details over time.
- Temperature Control: Controlling the temperature of the household without having to physically access the thermostat can assist those who may difficulty standing or walking or a vision impairment.
- Video Call: Some smart devices allow a caregiver to initiate a video call to check in and interact with the individual.
- Hubs: Many smart devices can control other devices in the house by using a smart plug and simple voice commands which allows the individual ease of access throughout the house as opposed to having to interact with each device.
- Smart Vacuums: These devices assist with housekeeping chores without the risk of falling or getting injured when vacuuming. It also helps individuals who are no longer able to complete specific household chores.
While smart devices can be very beneficial in assisting an individual around the house, there are also several devices that can help with ensuring the safety of your loved ones:
- Smart smoke detectors deliver a louder alarm and can also alert, neighbor or loved one and even directly an emergency services if needed.
- Smart watches can alert an individual when specific health symptoms occur such as a high heart rate. Many watches also can alert a caregiver if a fall is detected or allow caregivers to monitor if their loved one is in an unsafe environment or leaving the house. These devices are especially helpful with adults who have a cognitive memory illness such as Alzheimer’s or Dementia. Some smart watches also have voice command capabilities and alert systems that will allow emergency services or a caregiver to be contacted quickly.
- Smart contact sensors alert a caregiver if a door or window has been open for too long, which can be helpful to ensure the individual remains safe or to remind the individual that they have forgotten to close the door or window.
- Smart doorbells allow users to see who is at the door without having to walk to the door. This helps prevent the individual from opening the door to an unknown stranger. Smart doorbells also allow an individual to be notified when a package or delivery has been made, which helps prevent unnecessary steps to check for packages.
- Smart locks can allow a caregiver to lock a door virtually if an individual forgets to lock the door when entering or leaving the house.
- Stove monitors, depending on the model, send alerts if the stove has been left on or unattended. Some models even can indicate if the stove is too hot and turn the stove off automatically.
- Smart lights can be automatically set on a schedule to turn off and on lights, so a room does not get too dark and prevents lights from being left on accidentally.
Whether using smart devices for safety, or to increase independence, technology helps caregivers provide care and support to adults who are aging. Technology can be a powerful tool to allow an individual to still have access to their environment. As Steve Balmer says, Accessible design is good design – it benefits people who don’t have disabilities as well as people who do. Accessibility is all about removing barriers and providing the benefits of technology for everyone.” Each individual contributes to creating a more accessible environment for everyone by constantly thinking about how to make the environment more accessible. Accessibility allows an individual to feel a part of a community instead of feeling isolated because of limitations.