Apple Watch image

Stannah’s inclusive design expert, Vaila Morrison RIBA image
Stannah’s inclusive design expert, Vaila Morrison RIBA

In this article, Stairlift specialist Stannah’s inclusive design expert, Vaila Morrison RIBA, shares her top picks of technology to introduce throughout the home to adopt a more inclusive home lifestyle and care for increased independence and wellbeing.

My biggest passion is finding ways to make our homes and day-to-day lives easier for ourselves and more inclusive for our family and friends.

Recently I’ve been fascinated with all the amazing home tech products now available, some of which, at first glance, don’t shout inclusivity. It fills me with joy when I find a product designed for a mainstream audience that provides accessibility benefits (sometimes designed, sometimes by happy coincidence) or products designed for specific needs that consider style alongside function.

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One of the great benefits of the internet and social media is that tips and less obvious ways of using things can be shared by the people who use them.

Boiling water on tap (literally)

Home adaptation can be difficult, but one great example of a piece of mainstream kitchen tech that at first glance doesn’t seem particularly notable in terms of accessibility is a hot water dispenser.

Hot water dispenser image

This tip was shared by @lifeonwheelsuk using #InclusiveChic (which I co-own as a way to help share and find these types of tips and ideas).

They wrote: “This one cup machine has been a game changer, so much easier for Mark as he doesn’t need to lift the kettle to make a hot drink and fills the mug the right amount. We just use a jug to top it up throughout the day and I always make sure it’s full before I go out to make it easier.”

For those refitting their kitchen, a more integrated version of this idea would be to consider installing a boiling water tap. However, the benefit of the standalone water dispenser is that it can be moved to a location most accessible, which may not be around the kitchen sink area.

You needn’t take a stab in the dark

Around the home, good lighting is always helpful and benefits people with many different types of impairment. There are many ways users can control lighting, from smart systems and apps to more simple analogue timers that plug in directly to the socket.

Motion sensors are quite commonly used for outside lights (for security as well as practicality). These are also a handy solution for spaces like bathrooms, where finding the light switch in the dark can be a challenge.

For people with individual lamps, touch-sensitive controls are fantastic, particularly when used as bedside lighting, so that they don’t have to root around for switches in the dark. Large buttons or touch-sensitive bases are much easier for people with dexterity issues to operate independently.

Smart home hubs

Amazon Alexa image

Alexa, or an Amazon Echo device, is perhaps the best-known smart speaker, but other brands have similar products available. These smart speakers are much more than a way to listen to music. They’re virtual home assistants and can provide a means for accessing and controlling a user’s TV, CCTV, heating, lighting and other smart appliances through voice commands.

The Amazon Echo has been embraced by many disabled people, and the accessibility features are fantastic for making users more independent. For example, Alexa has recently acquired a fabulous ‘what am I holding?’ function that allows blind and visually impaired people to hold up a product to the camera for Alexa to identify and tell them what it is that they’re holding.

Greeting guests before getting up

Pitched as an aide for home security, video doorbells are also invaluable. They let users see (and respond to) someone at the door from their mobile phone wherever they are – even if the person is not at their home! Security cameras and video doorbells can be connected to smart home hubs like Alexa or Google Assist too.

I find the smart doorbell is incredibly helpful when I’m occupied assisting my disabled daughter (or when on a video call), but it would be equally beneficial to anyone who finds it difficult to get to the door quickly.

Video doorbell image

These doorbells can be fitted by an electrician, or there are battery-operated versions that are much easier to install. Now that these doorbells are a common feature of many front doors, it has the added advantage that it won’t stand out as signal that an ‘older’ or ‘vulnerable’ person may live here, as is sometimes the case with adaptive fittings.

Wearable tech

My own most recent tech purchase is a smartwatch. Wearable devices, as well as monitoring health and fitness, keep users more connected, either through a direct mobile connection or by linking to their mobile phone with Bluetooth.

The selling point for me – which I think makes it a truly assistive piece of tech – is the ‘fall alert’ function. The watch can tell if an individual takes a hard fall and will ask them if they want to call an emergency number. If there is no response within a certain time, the device will call the emergency number for the individual.

My daughter has high care needs and can’t be left alone; this helps to reassure me that help will be called if I were to have an accident when I’m the only adult at home. In style terms, these smartwatches are as far away from panic buttons on a lanyard as possible but fulfill that same function for getting help if needed.

The connectivity to a phone from a smartwatch can also allow users to tap into many of the apps they might have on their phone, allowing people to control smart devices like thermostats, lighting, and smart doorbells from their wrist!

Technology is rocketing along at an almost frightening pace, but it can present a world of ever-changing opportunities, from vibrate alarms and voice to text apps (which benefit hearing-impaired people) to the world of audiobooks, text to speech and talking maps to give audio directions (aiding visually impaired people).

It’s fabulous to see such improvements in inclusion and accessibility, and I hope we’ll continue to see more and more in the future!

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