Saturday, March 02, 2013

Accessible Smart Home Guidelines

John Gill Technology has released "Smart Home Accessibility Guidelines", as described in "Guidelines Cover Accessibility For Smart Homes Of The Future" (E-Access Bulletin, February 28th, 2013). These recommendations suggest that ICT in the home can help the elderly and others with disabilities, but only if their needed are taken into consideration when designing the interfaces for the smart home. I suggest that voice and other hands-free controls would be useful for the population generally, as well as those with a disability. Also designers of smart home controls and displays tend to make them too complex and hard to use and so an accessible design would benefit everyone.

However, I question the value of controls and displays for smart homes. A truly smart home should anticipate needs and adjust, without having any explicit input from the occupants and any need for them to look at displays. Smart meters are an example of what is not a "smart" technology. Householders should not have to read the tariff from a meter and then manually adjust the appliances in their home: this should happen automatically. Smarter technology has existed for decades with off-peak electric hot water systems, which switch on automatically when tariffs are low. An electronic smart meter should be able to be interfaced to major energy using appliances, which also monitor the pattern of use and so can optimize energy saving without bothering the householder. I talked about my smart apartment to the Canberra City Rotary Club in 2003.

Also homes can be designed for accessibility by using some very low tech, low cost techniques. One example is provision for access during design: steps can be eliminated and corridors wide enough for wheelchairs. Bathrooms can be designed with reinforcing in the walls to allow grab handles to be installed. A good example of this low tech approach are the accessible apartments at City Edge Canberra provided by Community Housing Canberra Ltd. These have adjustable height kitchen benches (including the sink and stove top) with a windup mechanism adapted from office furniture. The wireless controlled front doors use garage door openers.

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