My husband and I bought our first home in December 2015 and spent that Christmas Eve sleeping on the floor on an air mattress with a tiny light up tree. Although it was not elegant or even very accessible, it was exciting. I woke up Christmas morning expecting exciting presents, maybe some new shoes or brightly colored Vera Bradley purse. To my chagrin, I was given boxes upon boxes of electrical devices that I had no idea what to do with. I was gifted a thing called a hub, lots of “smart” outlets, a thermostat, light bulbs, and an Echo Dot.
Although I rely on technology for survival, I do not enjoy it. I have a long history of speech-to-text devices that never knew what I was saying, a wireless external hard drive that ate my dissertation before I submitted it, and countless pieces of assistive technology that never did what I wanted them to do. The last thing that I wanted for Christmas were more pieces of technology that would not work and would sit on the shelf collecting dust. My husband was ecstatic about “my presents” and so I tried to be mutually enthusiastic (although my acting skills were not up to par). As we made the necessary accessible accommodations to our new home over the next few months, my husband “smart-ified” the house, changing lightbulbs and switching outlets.
We finally moved in the day before Easter (evidently, we like to make it as hard as we can for Santa and the Easter Bunny to find us). During the first few days in our home, I still was not thrilled with the smart home devices. I never knew what light was named or what phrasing to use to get the Echo to do what I thought it should. There was a learning curve and since I graduated with my doctorate, I had no desire to climb it again. Then, it started to click.
Now, sitting by myself on the couch is not as scary. Without moving I can video call my parents, audio call anyone, look outside my front door, ensure my preferred habitat is at 72°, and decide how much lighting I want in any room. I can turn on my candle warmer or diffuser so that I can enjoy all of the good smells whenever I wish without asking for help. It will also allow me to listen to music, run the television, or read my audiobooks. I am able to lock all of my doors, see who is at my front door, and talk to them. I am also able to program the door locks so each of my care providers has their own code to enter. This allows me to delete the code if the individual no longer works for me or to be able to see when that person entered the house, which can be helpful if things seem to be missing or for something as simple as timesheets.
As with anything, there are some aspects to smart home technology that can be a downfall. Every once in a while, a device may become “unpaired” with the hub and I need to use my phone to reprogram it. (That’s pretty rare and although it sounds complicated, it isn’t hard to fix). Losing electric or internet service also makes it impossible to use the smart devices, but fortunately they all have manual backups. I have become so reliant on the devices that I sometimes forget where the light switches are. And sometimes I’ll pull the “mom trick” and name every other light that could be turned on before I name the one that I actually want to turn on.
Over the past five years, smart home devices have improved and gotten cheaper. It is possible to name a device anything that a person wants. So, if an individual does not remember “kitchen light” and maybe they do not say it clearly, that light can be named something that they would remember and that can be written phonetically, in a way that they actually say it. This allows the device to do what they want regardless of how it’s said or what it’s normally called. Smart home technology is truly becoming something that can be accessible to anyone.
Reflecting on my own transition, I can only imagine how much easier life could have been with these devices. They not only make life easier, but also safer.
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