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Smart Homes for Disabled Veterans

POSTED BY   Michele Baker
June 7, 2016

I recently wrote about how the era of IoT and smart homes is providing game changing technology for elderly care. Of course, it’s not just the elderly that can benefit from the developments that smart home technology can offer. Those with debilitating injuries and conditions, too, can have their everyday lives made easier by smart home technology. And, in America in particular, smart homes for disabled veterans are showing great potential for improving lives.

smart homes for disabled veterans

Building for America’s Bravest

RISE, a US-based charity working out of the Gary Sinise Foundation (established by the actor, who played wounded Lieutenant Dan Taylor in the 1994 film, Forrest Gump), has come together with the Tunnels to Towers Foundation (in memory of Stephen Siller, a firefighter killed en route to the World Trade Center on 9/11), in launching Building for America’s Bravest. The programme was initiated in 2011, raising funds to create and build customised smart homes for those suffering disability as a result of their service in war.

The smart homes built for veterans by Building for America’s Bravest are brand new homes, styled in that archetypal American McMansion style. The aesthetic of the BAB houses fits snugly with the notion of providing those who have served and sacrificed for their country with a hearty slice of the American Dream.

Building for America’s Bravest has worked with a whole range of veterans with differing needs, from those with invisible disabilities as a result of their time in service, to quadruple amputees, whose needs pose a wholly unique set of challenges. Funded by donations and government grants, these homes offer injured servicemen and women the chance to finally live a normal life, minimising the frustrations of everyday life that come with life-altering injuries.

Timothy Brown lost both legs and his right arm to an IED in Afghanistan in 2011. The home provided for him by Building for America’s Bravest comes as a massive relief. “The home will provide a stable place to live, for the first time in a decade,” Brown says, “and allow me to focus my energies less on how I am going to get things done throughout the day, and more on accomplishing my goals with cycling and photography.”

The vets lucky enough to be granted one of these $500,000 homes, generally 3000-sq.ft properties with all the bells and whistles of ‘white picket fence’ America, will benefit from a range of smart home features specially selected to meet the individual’s specific physical requirements.

smart homes for the disabled

Tailored Smart Homes for Disabled Veterans

Because each individual in need of one of these smart homes has different requirements, the homes are individually tailored. Whilst most of the features tend to be physical in form, providing lowerable surfaces for those in wheelchairs, or sliding doors for those with hand and arm disabilities, there are some aspects that rely solely on IoT technology. Everything from the thermostats and air conditioning, to the lighting, audio-visual devices and security can be controlled by tablet and smartphone apps, with sensor-driven doors, taps and other amenities also featuring in many instances.

One of the main concerns that many recipients have about their new, specially-designed homes is that it should not resemble a hospital environment in any way. The houses are therefore designed to ensure there were no pieces of ‘weird-looking’ equipment hanging from the walls or ceiling, no lifts or bungee cords or pulleys. The Building for America’s Bravest homes look pretty much like any other home on the street, inside and out, albeit, perhaps, a bit swankier inside than the average!

IoT and Accessibility

Beyond the great work of Building for America’s Bravest, some key players in the technology and connectivity industries are strongly aware of the potential that the Internet of Things offers for those living with disabilities. Google has its own Accessibility Engineering team, dedicated to innovation for those with disabilities. Working with product teams across the company, this department works to ensure Google products can be used by those with visual or hearing loss, loss of dexterity and other disabilities. They also work with external organisations, such as advocacy groups, and in providing research grants to universities working to increase developments in this field.

One key aspect of Google’s development of accessible products is that devices are not specifically designed for the disabled, that they are normal hardware used by everybody. As such, they are exploring how accessible features can be built into stock Android apps and devices, to reduce any sense of segregation on the part of parties with differing abilities. There is a two-pronged approach in play here: one is providing accessibility to navigate the digital world, and the other is to help people to navigate the real world.

There is little doubt that, as the IoT grows, so will the possibilities for making life easier for people whose needs differ from the norm. Far from fun little luxuries for the mass market, IoT technology has real potential for driving improved quality of life for those who find standard homes frustrating and difficult to negotiate. Quite as developing technologies are coming to the assistance of the elderly, the IoT is set to start making life easier for everybody, regardless of their needs.


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