Assistive Technology for Physical Disabilities: Environmental Controls: Second things Second...

Universal/accessible design of the home from an occupational therapy and a construction perspective. This blog is part of a quest for cool, convenient, functional design that makes life safer, easier, and as maintenance-free as possible. It's about the lifestyle.
Tek Pal big button remote control.

The last post answered how environmental control units (ECUs) communicate with each other. This post is for the second kind of people and starts to answer the question what may be used as an ECU.

The answer? Just about anything, ranging from low-tech (read: simple-ish) to hi-tech (read: complex-ish), that will allow you to control objects in your environment. For example; a big button remote control.

Tek Pal - Large Button TV Remote Control
the Tek Pal

The answer? Just about anything, ranging from low-tech (read: simple-ish) to hi-tech (read: complex-ish), that will allow you to control objects in your environment. For example; a big button remote control.

As with anything, low-tech options have their advantages and disadvantages. For example, this remote control is simple and easy to use. The downfall? It does not work with a TV equipped with cable or satellite.
This phone allows a hard-of-hearing user improved sound, as well as someone with beginning dementia, a brain injury, who is unable to read, or has a vision impairment the ability to dial a phone number by simply pressing a picture.

Of course, these days most people want to use a cell phone. Even without upper extremity function you can control the right cell phone with a NoButtonsHeadset. A modified Blue Ant voice activated headset allows the user to turn on/off the headset by tilting their head near a magnet mounted on the back of a wheelchair. The magnet bypasses the need to press a switch on the headset. Pure genious...I tell ya.

No Buttons Headset: The TRULY hands-free bluetooth headset [home link]
the No Buttons Headset as seen at

Most of the low-tech options are also low(er) cost. But, some more complex automation is not necessarily much higher in cost. Do you have a computer? (insert...duh!)

And you can use the mouse on this computer, correct? Then you can use your computer (given that it is a PC) to control your home theater system...and more. No kidding, through
Girder and Netremote software, and a little diddy called the USB-UIRT (an USB infrared transmitter), you can control your TV...and lights....and fans....and music...and the list goes on. Controlling the lights and fan require some additional hardware (remember X10?) but it can be done.

Sound complicated? Yes, the initial setup is, but daily use doesn't have to be. NetRemote allows you to link the Girder commands into a nice, simple, customizable remote control.

Open Netremote, press "Play", and you are whisked into movie-land.
Or, do you have an iPod/iPad/iPhone/iAnything? Then you may want to purchase the RedEye App with RedEye Mini or the L5 Universal Remote Control device and app, configure, and start changing the channels!

The software solution may work for you if you have your computer up and in front of you at all times when watching TV. The iPad/iPod/iPhone/iAnything may work if you want to consolidate devices and only want to control your home theater system.

Reality is that many people do not want their computer up front and center when watching TV, and many people who have sustained injuries or physical disabilities need to control more in their environment for safety.

So. How else can we control our environment if we are unable to move our extremities? Or if it is too difficult to use dedicated (for example, a phone) devices?

One option is to setup a device that will execute multiple actions. Not for the faint of heart, using a completely customizable device is often expensive and requires more than a little technical know-how to get the project going.
Dynavox Maestro

The devices used for intense environmental control are often those created for augmentative communication. The reason for this is;
  • Built-in infrared transmitters.
  • Are completely customizable.
  • Accommodate many abilities - from direct entry on the touch screen to single switch scanning.
Single Switch Scanning? YeS! And this, my dear friends, is imperative for people with limited physical movement.

Pair this device with an infrared telephone (such as the Sero), an X10 Infrared Command Unit, an awesome programmer, and you have a kick-butt-all-in-one-I-can-do-Everything ECU.

From low-tech to hi-tech, low-cost to high-cost, there are many options to control your environment. It all depends on what you want to control, and how you are able to control it.

Until later,

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