ABILITY House — Accessible Smart Home Technology

Circa 2004

For nearly 30 years Habitat for Humanity International has been dedicated to creating simple, decent and affordable housing. After the construction of more than 175,000 homes in 100 countries, there is no question that the tireless work of founders Millard and Linda Fuller has made a profound impact on the world.

Now the ABILITY House program, created by the nonprofit ABILITY Awareness in partnership with Habitat for Humanity International, is helping create affordable and accessible housing for families where one or more members have disabilities. Equally important, the ABILITY House program utilizes volunteers with disabilities during all phases of construction, highlighting their skills, talents and potential employability.

Every ABILITY House employs universal design elements and meets the criteria for visitability—a minimum of one no-step entrance, hallways at least 36” wide and one bathroom with a 32” doorway—but each ABILITY House is also built to accommodate the specific needs of the homeowner.

What happens when the future homeowner has quadriplegia? A typical family home may be riddled with obstacles and barriers for a person with little or no mobility. Without outside assistance, telephones can’t be answered, a light can’t be dimmed and doors cannot be opened for guests.

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To provide an environment promoting the highest level of independence in the least-restrictive manner, ABILITY Awareness has just built the first ABILITY House Smart Home, in partnership with Habitat Birmingham and homeowner Derrick Daniels. Sponsored by BellSouth and the BellSouth Telecom Pioneers, the ABILITY House Smart Home is the first ABILITY House to feature extensive assistive technology, environmental controls, automatic doors and a ceiling lift system.

Daniels, who is paralyzed from the neck down due to an accidental shooting, is 26 years old and is working toward a college degree in computer science. Even though Daniels has a full-time caretaker who lives with him in his new ABILITY House, everyone involved in the project agreed it was imperative to create a home where Daniels could be as independent as possible.

“We were introduced to Derrick, a terrific young man who has a very bright future,” noted Ron Talley, new director for accessibility and assistive technology for the ABILITY House program. “Because of the extent of his disability, it was important for us to really look at what we could do to provide a barrier-free environment. Consequently, we created the ABILITY House Smart Home.

“We were pleased to have BellSouth as the leader on this project,” Talley added. “BellSouth was the first corporate sponsor of Habitat for Humanity International and it was a sponsor for the very first ABILITY House, so to have it as a sponsor for the first ABILITY House Smart Home seems quite fitting. I think BellSouth’s ongoing commitment to Habitat and the ABILITY House program is indicative of the company’s dedication to supporting the community it serves.”

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In addition to sponsoring construction of the home, BellSouth provided extensive telephone technology and services, including an Ameriphone electronic remote-control, voice-activated speakerphone; talking caller ID; BellSouth deluxe caller ID service, directory assistance exemption and directory assistance call-completion service; and BellSouth FastAccess Internet Service.

To further increase Daniels’ independence, the ABILITY House also includes an HP Pavilion Media Center PC with a 17” flat screen monitor, an HP printer-copier-scanner all-in-one and an HP Photosmart digital camera. HP products incorporate accessibility features, including special keystrokes that are compatible with assistive technology devices and applications. From the PC station, Daniels is able to operate lights, doors, ceiling fans, televisions, and other appliances. Stanley Senior Technologies donated three AccessPro door automators.

Experts from BellSouth and HP evaluated Daniels to determine what type of assistive technology would best allow him to independently use his PC. HP then provided a Madentec Tracker, a headtracking device that converts head movement into computer mouse movement; Madentec Screen Doors, an on-screen keyboard that works with the Tracker; and a Madentec Magic Cursor 2000, a clicking solution for Tracker that emulates clicking a mouse. In addition to managing the physical mechanisms of his home, this assistive technology also provides Daniels the freedom to work on his computer, browse the internet, use email and complete his college assignments.

The home also includes a ceiling lift system provided by Sure Hands Ceiling Lift Systems. The lift system assists Daniels’ caregiver in transporting him back and forth from his bedroom to the bathroom. David Jones, the home’s architect, also has a spinal cord injury and understands the value of the modifications that were made to accommodate Daniels’ special needs. “They allow the user to have more control in his life, not just in spirit but in reality,” Jones explained.

Understandably, Daniels was eager to get into his new home and looks forward to the opportunities that owning a barrier-free home will provide. “I’m proud, very blessed and very happy,” Daniels said. “I can be more independent. I can open the door and turn on the lights with my voice.” It is this independence, this opportunity for a homeowner to live at his or her fullest ability, that the volunteers of the ABILITY House program aim to deliver for every family that qualifies for an ABILITY House.

House design was prepared by Lawson State Community College drafting and design technology students, with David Jones, architectural instructor.

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