Question: Why would anyone need to ask a virtual home assistant – there are several names to choose from nowadays – to turn on the lights or open the door or lower the temperature in the living room?

Answer: most people don’t. Don’t need to, I mean.

But many want to. It’s cool. It’s convenient. And who doesn’t want an assistant to do things for them? Even very basic things. Then there’s the safety and security angle, providing you don’t get ‘hacked’ (more on this later). Say that the delivery lady is at your door and you’re at work? No need for your package to be left on the front porch. Over your internet connection, you can see her clearly looking at the security camera. Just instruct your home assistant to unlock the door for her and then lock it after she leaves. Or there’s that moment when you’ve just arrived at the airport and can’t remember if you turned off the air conditioner. Ask you assistant to check that for you and set it straight right away.

All of these and many more dazzling innovations have been designed primarily for people who want comfort and convenience and can afford them. Nobody actually needs these things, right? Personally, I’m not sure I’ll ever bother, even though I’m tempted;  BUT…

Here’s where it gets interesting for the millions of Australians (billions worldwide) who live with impairments, chronic illnesses or the debilitating effects of ageing. While most of these home automation innovations have been designed to provide able-bodied people with convenience; just think about those times when convenience morphs into necessity!

Abilities

 

My 21 year-old son, quadriplegic with cerebral palsy – but sharp as a tack and independently-minded – is moving into his own home in a few months. He will run his video-editing and consulting business from home. He will have a dog. He will party. And, even though he will have Support Workers around (no fully-functioning home-assist robots available just yet), he will get on with being 21!

Home automation, specifically, the Apple Home app controlling HomeKit-enabled devices and appliances, is one of three things that make this possible for him.

The other two are the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and his considerable mojo.

Okay. Apple HomeKit. Let me stop right there for a second. ‘Why Apple?’ you may be asking. [Disclaimer: I have nothing to declare here. I don’t work for Apple and I’m not trying to sell you anything.] Read on and I’ll explain.

As I’ve been describing, there are technological solutions for people who live with all manner of impairments that were not primarily designed as Assistive Technologies in the narrow sense of that term. They are ‘assistive’ quite by accident, you might say. Home automation is a great example.

Then there are tech solutions that are specifically designed to meet the needs of people who live with specific disabilities. Here‘s a great example. There are thousands of others.

Then there are devices and systems that are designed universally – that is, as far as humanly possible, they are designed to be used by everyone. And here’s where Apple comes in.

There are many things about Apple that are, shall we say, ‘quirky’. And Accessibility is one of them. The good people at Apple don’t seem to be able to help themselves. It’s almost as if it’s in their DNA. Every new device or service they roll out has been designed and built, not just for the ‘mainstream’ but for the ‘margins’. So, in our case, because every Apple device has Switch Control designed- and built-in, my quadriplegic son can do anything on an iOS touchscreen device that an able-bodied person can do. And he does! And because he has control of that device, he automatically has access to his Mac and his Apple TV and his apps, like Home!

As his father, what I appreciate about this is that I know his home automation will be safe and secure because HomeKit is as unhackable as all Apple devices!

In his case, Convenience (incorporated into HomeKit) means Accessibility, which means Independence.

Mount an iPhone on his power-wheelchair and he is in charge!

i didn’t expect this would be possible. I’m a pessimist and I’m surprised.