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    Smart home technology creates independence for patients with disabilities

    Talk to your visually impaired patients about adding a device to their homes

    We often hear about what technology will do in the future, such as self-driving cars. However, our patients with visual impairment and blindness need help now.

    Thankfully, we are seeing a number of assistive technologies coming to market, such as wearables, improved text-to-speech programs, improved magnification software, assistive apps and navigation tools. We are also seeing technology emerging in the mainstream that does not exclude those with a disability, and innovations, such as Apple watch, are already coming to market with accessibility features built in from the start.    

    One of the most popular technology items purchased during the 2016 holiday season were smart home devices—most notably Amazon Echo and Google Home smart speakers. These smart speakers not only play music, but they act as a personal assistant and are able to search the Internet, make lists, set alarms, play audio books, and control devices (turning your home into a smart home)—all by the sound of your voice.

    While these functions sound fascinating and fun to use for most of us, think of what this means to our elderly patients as well as those who are low vision, blind or have other disabilities. For people who are elderly or with disabilities, smart home devices are now not just a novelty but can become a necessity and used as an assistive technology, providing more functional capabilities and independence.1   

    Related: Using technology, medical informatics in patient education

    Like any new technology, smart home devices will take time time to catch on. Not surprising, millennials and those living in urban areas seem to be the most excited about smart home technology, according to Business Insider.2

    The smart home market is expected to reach $121.73 billion by 2022.3 With these speculations, even stores like Home Depot now have a separate smart home device section. It is estimated that by 2020, there will be over 26 billion connected devices.4

    The smart home

    The smart home is not a new concept; in fact, innovations such as the smart medical home for seniors, including fall detection began in the late 1990s to early 2000s.5

    Smart homes have five elements:6

    • Energy: Homes can be more energy efficient with programmable thermostats or automatic blinds.

    • Security: Homes can be safe from intruders with alarms and/or cameras. Plus, some devices can help the elderly by detecting a fall.

    • Atmosphere: We can control the mood with lighting and/or music. We can automatically change the color of indoor lighting based on the weather—for example, lights can turn blue on a rainy day.

    • Convenience: We can use smart home devices to create a schedule, learn the weather forecast, or search the Internet by speaking to the device. We can create a shopping list by voice or place a scanning device next to our garbage that tracks what you throw away and need to replace.

    • Entertainment: We can control the television, play music, and even have our house lighting flash and change color to the music playing.

    Related: Using virtual reality in your practice

    Today, companies offer many devices to outfit any home. The theme for the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas was connectivity, and many smart home devices were showcased. These automated connected devices are able to lock the door, control smart lights, and set smart alarm clocks to tracking what you throw away in your smart garbage pail and making a list of what needs to be replaced.

    Bryan Wolynski, OD, FAAO
    Dr. Wolynski is a 2000 graduate of the New England College of Optometry. He consults for OrCam Technologies and the Florida Heiken ...


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