To the average person, the existence of smart home technology may mean they can always know the weather, they can never be locked out of their house, and they can watch their favorite show even though they’ve lost the remote. To those people, smart home is about convenience. Entertainment. Fun tricks to wow their friends.
But to a person with a disability, a smart home might mean being able to turn lights on and off, adjust a thermostat, use the restroom independently, or even call for help in an emergency. For those people—people like me—a smart home is an accessible home.
I was born with a rare disability called arthrogryposis. It shows up differently from one person to the next, but in my case it means the muscles from the base of my neck all the way out to my fingertips never completely developed. The bones in my arms, shoulders, and hands are small and frail. I cannot bend my elbows or lift my arms more than a few inches. I’ve broken an arm seven times.
As a child, I learned quickly that I live in a world designed for hands. Heavy doors, tall shelves, high fives, and most sports… those were for other people. I’d have to find my own way.
I was two years old when I picked up a crayon to color in the way that came most naturally to me. I held it between my toes and started creating.
In the 33 years since, I’ve created a few more things: I’ve created music, I’ve created a book, I’ve created three humans (OK, I had a little help with those) and somehow managed to keep them alive.
I’m living a full, rich life, but I still can’t adjust the speed on the ceiling fan in my office because the chain is too far above my head. I can’t unlock my front door from outside because you have to pull the handle while you turn the key. I can’t type for long without back pain finally breaking through the pain meds.
It’s all little stuff. But when it’s all little stuff all day long, it starts to feel… not so little. Even “accessible” places are really only accessible to certain types of disabilities. Not mine. So I’ve learned to turn to technology and the latest inventions in search of ways to make life less of a struggle for me.
Sports? I can kayak for hours in my Hobie Mirage, which is propelled by pedals. That ceiling fan in my office? With Lutron’s Smart Fan Speed Control switch, I can adjust it by voice. I can do the same with my front door lock with the Yale Assure Smart Lever Lock
And as for the pain that creeps up while I’m working, a smart, ergonomic workstation might do the trick.
Smart home as a category is constantly changing and expanding possibilities for people with disabilities.
As the editor of our smart home section here at Reviewed, I want to be transparent about how my unique situation may affect my ability to fairly critique products. In most ways, my feet function like people’s hands. But I’m well aware that, sometimes, the way I interact with a product may not be representative of how our readers do.
I keep that in mind when I’m testing products, and if I think I may not be able to assess something without bias, I pull in an able-bodied friend and watch them interact with a product before I cast judgement. Or I simply assign the review to someone else.
You may notice my feet make appearances occasionally in my photos and videos here. It’s something I’ve avoided in the past, because I didn’t want the way I do things to distract from the products I demonstrate. But their flexibility to be used in myriad ways is part of what makes smart home so amazing. And as more of us age and our physical abilities change, smart tech will increasingly be about giving ability where our bodies lack.
I’ve said many times that, if you’re going to pick an era in history to have a disability, the present time is a good choice. We’re becoming more aware and inclusive all the time, and the progress we’re making in the world of smart home is poised to level the playing field considerably for those of us who live differently and want to be independent.