Living with a spinal cord injury presents a variety of unique challenges that are often overlooked by those who do not deal with such injuries on a daily basis. Inside the home, previously simple things such as turning the lights on can be difficult and time-consuming. Without the help of someone else, hopping out of the bed in the morning could involve repositioning oneself in bed, waiting for spasms to subside, transferring to a wheelchair, and finally rolling over to the light switch. Fortunately, as technology improves, many tasks can be completed with an app on a smart phone or through voice activation with a smart home device. The following are some devices that can make the home a much more accessible place.
Amazon Echo – Perhaps more commonly known as Alexa, the Echo is the centerpiece of many smart home set ups. The Echo allows users to control devices using specific spoken commands. Even with no other smart home devices, the Echo can play music, update you on the latest news and weather forecasts, give reminders, and act as a limited encyclopedia. The true magic of the Echo, however, is shown when it is paired with other devices. Virtually any type of device that someone may need can be used in conjunction with the Echo (as long as it is compatible). With a single command you can turn on the lights, open the blinds, and turn on the stereo all at once with no effort.
Nest Thermostat – Having a smart thermostat in the home has multiple benefits. The Nest thermostat learns your daily schedule and can automatically adjust temperatures depending on the time of the day and whether people are present in the home. This can help save money on both gas and electric bills, especially in climates where the furnace or air conditioning could be running for extended periods of time. For people with spinal cord injuries, the Nest can be controlled through an app or a device like an Amazon Echo or Google Home. Since regulating body temperature can be difficult for those living with spinal cord injuries, being able to control the thermostat from anywhere in the house is priceless. It can even be scheduled to turn the heat up so you don’t freeze when you get out of the shower in the morning.
Leviton Smart Switch – The Leviton Smart Switch allows you to have full voice or phone control over your lights. Turning the lights on or off, dimming, or brightening can all be managed remotely. Different settings can also be automated so that the lights are not blinding in the morning or too dim in the dark. Depending on someone’s electrical skills, a professional may be needed to install the switch but it is well worth it.
Hunter Douglas Powerview Blinds – Opening and closing blinds was always a challenge for me. Managing a pull string without hand function is quite difficult and there was always something in front of the window preventing me from getting there anyway. With the Powerview hub, blinds are completely automated and customizable. The Powerview can be programmed to work with the Nest thermostat to help save on energy costs as well. If the outside temperature rises or falls to a certain point, the Nest will automatically instruct the blinds to close to insulate certain rooms. Like everything else, this can all be done with voice commands or through an app.
Schlage Sense Smart Lock – Locks have existed for centuries in variations of the same concept. With the development of smart locks, keys are now obsolete. This is beneficial in a couple of ways. First, for those with impaired hand function, fumbling with keys is a thing of the past. The Sense can be controlled with a touchpad, an app, or a “Hey Siri” command on an iPhone. There is a key included in case everything else fails. Second, for those with caregivers, the Sense can be programmed with up to 30 codes allowing many people to have access. Furthermore, virtual keys can be shared so a caregiver could unlock the door with their phone. Even if you don’t want to grant that much access, you can unlock the door using your phone from the comfort of your own bed.
Smart home devices, along with countless others, allow for a much greater level of comfort, efficiency, and independence. In just a few years, these devices have gotten much more affordable and powerful. What once would have costed thousands of dollars and performed one function, now costs hundreds and can do a variety of things. Considering how rapidly technology changes, smart devices will continue to evolve and make everybody’s lives easier.
Written by Mike Franz
Mike is a C6 quad from Michigan who has been injured 16+ years.