Disability History Month Tech Talk 3: Home Automation and How Accessible are Smart Technologies for Disabled People?

What’s up TR Fans and welcome back for another blog, which is now blog 3 of my Disability History Month coverage! A big apology for not uploading last night – I’ve been very sick this week and am only feeling better now – but everything will be updated over the weekend and maybe early next week depending on how fast the exports go.

So while the Internet of Things [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_of_things] might have once been thought of as Science Fiction, since the introduction of Smart Speakers, we’ve seen it being used more and more, by able-bodied as well as disabled people. You can now control your lights, turn your heating up and down, turn your tv on and more, all with a voice command. But despite some of the advantages of home automation, some of the smart technologies we have are more accessible than others, so what are some of the best known home automation technologies available today, and how accessible are they for disabled people?

1: Home Automation in General

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When we talk about home automation, we’re getting into the world of artificial intelligence. If you’ve read, watched or listened to my review of the Amazon Echo Dot 3rd Generation – which if you haven’t, you can view at https://technologyreviews303589869.wordpress.com/2020/04/29/amazon-echo-dot-3rd-generation-review/, you’ll know that I say the voice command could be better, which I still stand by as there are times when I have to shout for my Alexa to listen, even when I’m beside it, though it isn’t as bad as the first generation. This will obviously improve as AI and smart speakers get more advanced, but I can’t tell if it would be any better on the new generations as I haven’t tried them yet.

No 2: Smart Light Bulbs

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At the end of last year/beginning of this year, I started planning to make 2020 the year when I would tech my room up. I wanted and still want to get control over my lights, and so for my birthday in January, I got one of the Lifx ones.

I started having problems straight away, in that the bulb I got didn’t fit the wall lights I have all around my room, so I decided to get a lamp for it. The lamp blends into my wallpaper ok, but as good as it is, I still would like to get control of the other lights around my room, including 7 spotlights.

We’re in a unique situation here when people with physical disabilities can get more independence than they would have had 10 years ago, but to allow us the freedom of taking the full advantages these technologies now bring, developers should design bulbs that can fit every sort of light people have in their homes, not just lamps. If these design changes were made, disabled people could also get brought into the climate change movement as well, as – depending on the light bulb – smart lights run on less energy compared to the usual ones.

But as a result of how the rest of the year has panned out from about April onwards, I will be continuing my smart home adventures in 2021. If you see anything in this blog that you think you could help with, please reach out in the comments or over my social medias to tell me if something might help. I’m only at the start of this journey so I’d really appreciate if you could tell me if something would work better than others.

No 3: Smart Locks as a Way of Opening and Closing Doors

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As I only got as far as looking at smart light bulbs and beginning to look at how I could control my tv this year before being put into shielding, based on what order I might install things next year, at point number 3, I’m looking at smart locks.

For years, I’ve wanted more control over one of my bedroom doors, but also the ability to open and close doors – when we’re allowed to go out again – by myself. Smart locks allow you to open and close doors using your phone, or with smart assistants, but what I would need to find out before I order one is whether or not you can get ones which open doors after a tap on your phone or with a voice command, or if something like this doesn’t exist already, for developers to come up with something that does. It would also have to have an override mode in the case of a fire.

No 4: TV Controls

TVs have changed rapidly in the last few years, with smart TVs really taking off. According to https://www.statista.com/statistics/1107844/access-to-smart-tv-in-households-worldwide/, 48% of households in the UK now have access to smart TVs, with 6.7 million of UK households – according to Finder UK – subscribed to two or more subscription services.

Although they can be expensive, what makes smart TVs accessible is the ability to control them through an app on your phone. As someone who is paralysed from the neck down and who doesn’t like using the physical tv remote because it has to be brought over to me and I can’t use it anyway, I rely on apps so I can get round my tv.

I haven’t been able to set my smart tv to work with Alexa yet, but I was able to set my Apple TV 4K to operate off the remote app on my phone or iPad, which will do fine until I get the last couple of bits to let me control my tv.

No 5: Smart Thermostats

Home automation also makes it possible to control your heating through the latest technology, helping to save money and energy as well. With thermostats which connect to Alexa, Google Home, Apple HomeKit etc, it’s possible for disabled and elderly people to adjust their heating on a phone or tablet or using a smart speaker, and you can even set schedules for when you’re not home.

No 6: Robot Vacuums

Robot Vacuums are another bit of home automation technology that should help you out around the home, as they double as a mop as well and can clean up all surfaces. If you get one that connects to your smart speaker, you should be able to give the smart speaker commands to send it out or send it home, but I can’t comment much more on them yet as the one I got for my family last year didn’t connect to Alexa, so I don’t know if one that does reacts differently or not. They also move out of the way if they’re about to bump into something, such as a dog or a cat, but ours stopped working after it startled my dog and two cats who went in for the kill. Hopefully our next one has better luck!

Conclusion

But overall, I think most of the smart technologies we use with home automation today are accessible. Technology has come a long way over the last 100+ years, from the early technological changes of the 1900s, to the customisable car that my aunt who had only a thumb and no fingers on her left hand had made for her over 40 years ago when she was learning to drive, to the technologies which let disabled people get as much independence as they can today, and which have enabled some of my disabled friends to drive. There are more smart technologies being used for Home Automation that didn’t make this list but can make help disabled people feel more secure in their own homes, like video doorbells and cameras, and hopefully as more and more become available, we will see a world where we can help reduce climate change just as much as our able-bodied friends, and in a way that is accessible to us and gives us a level of independence too!

Amazon Echo Dot 3rd Generation Review

Hi everyone and welcome back to Technology Reviews! I hope you’re all doing well, and that you and everyone you know are coping alright amidst this current crisis!

Back when I did my Christmas blog last year about what I got for Christmas, I mentioned that among my presents was the Amazon Echo Dot 3rd Generation. I also mentioned that I would be writing reviews of everything I got, but since then, I’ve had to work on background work for some stuff I’m doing when not blogging, so apologies for this coming so late.

But before I get into this, let me remind you of everywhere you can follow me. If you want to follow my personal Twitter account, that is @Phoebslyle, and if you want to follow my personal Instagram, it is: @therealphoebslyle. You can also follow Technology Reviews, and if you want to do that, the Twitter is @TechReviewsuk_, the Instagram is @technologyreviewsuk, and you can also like the Facebook page, Technology Reviews. As well as that you can also subscribe to the YouTube Channel, Technology Reviews, and follow me at Phoebs Lyle on Soundcloud, where I now post a Podcast.

But now, let’s get straight into this review!

The Amazon Echo Dot 3rd generation is the latest among Amazon Smart Speakers, and one of the cheaper models on market at the minute. Now available with a fabric design and improved speaker, it has a richer and louder sound, letting you pair it with other compatible Echo devices around your home, and share music all around!

Ready to help, Alexa is ready to play songs, answers questions, read the news, check the weather, control compatible smart home devices, set alarms, and more!!! You can voice control your smart home by using her to turn on your smart lights, to adjust your thermostat, lock doors, etc, and even play games which you can do by searching through the thousands of skills on the Alexa app. This is something I find very helpful, because I’ve been able to set Alexa up to remind me about taking my medication each day, but I think the voice control has to be improved a wee bit as it is still difficult for Alexa to understand me at times with the sound of my ventilator, and I often have to try multiple times.

Now coming with the ability to let you connect with others, you can call almost hands free from UK mobile and residential numbers (although this feature is only available in the uk at the time of writing this). With the Announcement option now added, you can also tell the other people in your household that you need something without even leaving the room, or drop in on them if they’ve got any compatible device.

Designed to protect your privacy, the Echo Dot 3 is built with multiple layers of privacy protection and control, including a Microphone Off button that electronically disconnects the microphones. You can also do this in the settings in your Alexa app, but I won’t get in to the settings in this blog, but I might do it in a different one.

You can also use Alexa to play soundtracks and playlists on Amazon and Apple Music, Spotify, TuneIn, BBC Radio, Downtown etc.

So what do I think about the Amazon Echo Dot 3rd Generation so far? I think the speaker is a lot better than the first generation, and even – although I didn’t have one – the 2nd – and I can hear it from long distances away, so I don’t think you would need to buy any other speakers unless that’s something you really think you want to do. The new fabric design is also very nice, and I find myself most of the time, if not playing music, listening to radio or enjoying any of the other features, just playing games. I really like the quizzes! But on a not so good note, I think the voice control still needs to be improved so it can recognise people who have a quieter voice or are talking with air in the background, as that would make it even more accessible. But other than that, I think it’s great!

Selling for £49.99 but on sale at the minute and at various other times of the year, the Amazon Echo Dot 3rd Generation is available in Charcoal Fabric (black), Heather Grey Fabric (Grey), Plum Fabric (Pink), and there is now a new Sandstone Fabric as well.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️