IOT: the disability angle – from air conditioning to the self-drive car

Disability is most easily defined as ‘a limitation in a basic core activity of daily living’.

As an analyst, hearing so much about the Internet of Things (IOT) gets you thinking about how life will change. And as a registered blind person, it also makes me wonder what frustrations will be smoothed out by this pervasive technology.

Walking into my hotel room in China last week, I thought of some of the potential improvements that IOT might bring me when entering an unfamiliar environment:

  • I could control the air conditioning from my smart phone. I wouldn’t have to wonder which of the many buttons (assuming I can find the control) increase or decrease the temperature without the need to call the front desk to send someone to come and adjust the settings
  • I could switch the lights off without spending time feeling my way around electrical appliances and walls to find the oft hidden switches (and the often multiple types of switches on different devices)
  • I could set the temperature for my shower without deciphering how the different knobs affect the temperature and direction of the water
  • I could use my smartphone to turn the TV on, avoiding the labyrinth of menus on an unfamiliar remote control; play my music through their sound system and watch a film – yes, blind people do watch films – in English with audio description
  • I could actually set the safe without needing to share my passcode with a member of hotel staff
  • I could pull up the room service menu on my smart phone or laptop and see what they had rather than trying to understand the room service call operator as they attempt to read the menu to me
  • I could find the restaurant, the meeting room, and even break out of my hotel prison to visit the local shopping mall to find a present for my wife’s birthday
  • And how about actually finding my way to the gym without falling down several poorly marked steps (let alone almost tumbling into the outdoor pool!)?
  • Oh, and when I get into the gym, setting the tread mill or cross-trainer to the programme my trainer says I need to stick to in order to maintain the highly tuned body I have nurtured over the last 50 years

Being away from familiar surroundings just amplifies the need for a more helpful environment. At home, where things are more familiar, there is still a massive upside to remotely controllable central heating, lighting, washing machines, security, media and many more banal daily tasks that disabled people struggle with. And, don’t forget the imminent advent of an army of robots ready and willing to act as an interface to many of these devices as well as brewing the tea and fetching the biscuits.

When out and about, IOT enabled bus stops, buses, trains, shops, supermarkets, airports (literally everything), can feed information to allow people to better navigate, shop and interact with the environment let alone be a more engaged citizen on every level.

Never having been able to drive, my ultimate IOT goal is the self-drive car. The automotive industry has to make it so good that a blind person literally can ‘drive’ the car. Think about it!

There is no reason why the above, and many more issues, can’t be addressed by the IOT revolution. It requires some clear initial thinking around how applications are designed, how interfaces to smart devices are constructed. This will allow the billions, if not trillions, of devices and sensors to pool information and interact openly with my preferred smart device, peripherals and wearables.

Furthermore, it’s not just about empowering the individual in the home. Public services, including local authorities and, of course, healthcare organisation, can leverage the IOT to provide services into the home for the individual. Monitoring conditions, remote diagnostics, as well as a video-based consulting, could all improve service and reduce the cost of supporting someone.

So, this is a call to arms to all web & apps designers and to businesses thinking about embedding IOT and communications into their business processes: please design for all and allow the billion disabled people in the world – yes, 1 in 7 – to benefit from this radical adjustment to the way we run our daily lives.

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