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Embracing Assistive Technology —
Creating our Smart Home

by Vicki Kowaleski

February 2, 2022

Editors Note: In the summer of 1986, Vicki Kowaleski was injured in a diving accident that left her with quadriplegia at the age of 22. She recently retired after a 24-year-career as a vocational rehabilitation counselor and supervisor for the Connecticut Bureau of Rehabilitation Services. She is a longtime member of State of Connecticut’s Assistive Technology Advisory Council.

My husband and I recently purchased a ‘new to us’ home. In addition to remodeling the home to incorporate ramps, a bathroom with a roll-in shower, a handheld shower head and wider doorways into the bathroom and a closet with barn doors for easier entry, I decided to explore a number of assistive technology devices. I was injured in a diving accident 35 years ago, resulting in paralysis from my chest to my toes, impacting my arm strength and hand dexterity. I use a power wheelchair for mobility, so I am all about finding assistive devices to help me manage everyday living.

Safety First

The first thing we did was to enlist the help of ADT alarm services. They installed an alarm panel that is all touch screen. I downloaded the ADT app so I am able to operate the alarm from my phone. They also installed interior as well as exterior cameras which are also accessed through the app. Finally, the package included door sensors and the new Ring doorbell camera. I can tell which door is opened and when, and I receive alerts when the cameras detect motion inside the house, as well as outside in the back yard. I can see who is at the door by looking at my cell phone or our Alexa devices. I feel safer now that I can operate the alarm system either from my phone or from the panel inside the house. We can purchase a key fob as well, which will help my husband, since he isn’t fond of technology and still struggles with his phone.

Virtual Assistants: Echo and Alexa

We have an Echo Show 8 on our kitchen counter. From getting recipes, checking the calendar, asking for weather reports, watching movies, listening to music…the list is endless with this device! We have a smaller Echo dot in our bedroom that we use for our alarm, to play Sleep Sounds and listen to music and audio books. I am still learning all of the skills that Alexa- enabled devices can learn.

We replaced two ceiling fans in the living room with Modern Forms fans that are Wi-Fi compatible and equipped with Bluetooth. I can operate them using their remotes, my cell phone and yes… Alexa! We liked them so much that we bought one for our bedroom as well. No more searching for the remotes; we just use our phones or Alexa.

“Did I remember to close the garage door?”

myQ appOne surprise that the previous owner had installed a Chamberlain garage door opener with myQ technology. I was able to pair the garage door opener with my iPhone using the myQ app. This is extremely helpful paired with the Ring camera device for when we drive away from the house and wonder “did I remember to close the garage door?” I am able to open and close the garage door from anywhere using my phone. It can also be programmed to open or close at set times.

 

Safe Package Deliveries

As an Amazon Prime member, I can get our Amazon packages delivered inside our garage with Key by Amazon. It was free! It is especially convenient during bad weather

A key-less entry pad will be installed on the outside of the garage, allowing us to assign codes to allow family members to get into the garage if we are not around. We also installed a keyless entry lock on the door inside the garage that leads to the house. No fumbling with keys, just touch the keypad to enter a code—much easier for me.

Controlling Lights and Temperature

TreatLifeInside the house, all of the light switches are rocker switches that are easy to operate. We purchased Smart light bulbs by TreatLife. These are compatible with Alexa and Google assistant. I like to use them in bedside lamps so all I have to do is say “Alexa, turn off my lamp.” These light bulbs can be put on a schedule to turn on or off, and they are dimmable.

We had a Honeywell Wi-Fi smart color thermostat installed. It’s programmable, has a nice touchscreen and is Alexa compatible. I downloaded the Honeywell app to be able to adjust the thermostat from anywhere using my iPhone. We can set different schedules for when we are home or away. It’s especially convenient on these cold mornings– just grab the phone off of the nightstand and turn up the heat.

Total cost? Less than you think…

We plan to purchase smart plugs for our bookcase lights and any other lights that are plugged in that can’t use smart bulbs, such as my makeup mirror, which has a knob that is impossible for me to turn. Another planned purchase is outdoor lighting that we can schedule to turn on and off. So far, our Internet provider seems able to keep up with our needs for high-speed Wi-Fi service.

As far as financing these kinds of purchases, look for deals through Amazon, Best Buy and similar stores. Our families give us gift cards for our birthdays and holidays. I am always looking for the best deals and prices.  It cost us about $2,500.

And for now, if the power goes out we will use our portable generator as our back-up plan. Eventually, we hope to install a permanent, automatic generator to keep all of our smart devices connected and working.

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