At FulTech Solutions we have an arrangement with the State of Florida’s Vocational Rehabilitation Services to provide services and products to assist the disabled by improving their ability to control the environment around them. This is a somewhat untapped industry in which automation could do great service. At the same time, this is one area where things MUST work as expected and be extremely reliable. Some of the things you are controlling may be life-critical and you must be sure that you can deliver what you promise.

In the case in point here we worked with a company out of Tampa who provides bed controls, electric wheel chairs, motorized door openers and the like to the disabled population. Since we were not familiar with many of the devices we were controlling, we wanted to make sure we had a handle on the situation. This particular client had cerebral palsy and was confined to an orally controlled electric wheelchair. Most people are probably familiar with seeing these as the occupants look like they are sucking a straw, which is sort of the case. The system is called a sip-n-puff system and basically allows various controls by using differing sequences and lengths of sips and puffs on an air filled plastic tube. She could do little more than move her head and neck, yet she was an extremely active person with a full-time, away from home job and family. She needed quite a varied assortment of devices integrated to enable her lifestyle.

We started with the lighting control for obvious reasons. We used SwitchLinc LS X10 based switches and installed a phase coupler/amplifier and whole house surge suppressor. The SwitchLinc switches have a very low signal threshold, meaning they will “hear” a very weak X10 signal … which means more reliability. They also offer a variety of scene controls at a reasonable price. The phase coupler and amp offer some added insurance that the system will always work properly. We also added a thermostat control from RCS to enable control of the HVAC system. Finally we added IR and A/V control to both the bedroom and family room, allowing control of TVs and VCRs in both rooms as well as all of the home theater equipment, including a 200 disc CD player, and the distributed audio system.

In addition to the standard home automation sub-systems we also integrated many of the products specific to her needs such as bed controllers and door opener. The bed control integration was a challenge and was enabled by the company we worked with soldering contacts from a compatible control kit onto a wired remote that came with the bed controller. This was then connected to the control system, thus allowing the user to control it by a variety of means. The mechanical door opener, which fully opens and closes a full-size exterior door, had contact closures, which we tied to the system so we could send a signal to remotely control this too.

In addition to working outside the home, the client maintained a relatively large office in the home, which was fully outfitted with computers, printers, fax and more. She has several phone lines, each dedicated to a specific device. To control her computer she has a device that sits atop the monitor with 2 very low-intensity lasers inside, aimed at the users glasses. On her glasses is a small (<1/4") dot, which returns the position of her eyes, which in-turn translates that to movement on the screen. Wherever she looks, that is where the mouse pointer is. The system, of course, has an onscreen pop-up keyboard, that worked surprisingly quickly, which she can easily toggle on and off. We also integrated our control system, a JDS Timecommander with IR Xpander, with a voice-activated interface and phone control system designed specifically for integrating with many of these specific devices, called Quartet. It also handled the sip-n-puff features allowing the user to sip and puff on the plastic tube to "access" the control system. One of the main features this product had was the ability to allow total control and access to the phone lines, via voice only. This means she can tell it to pick up (seize the line), dial, answer, hang-up, redial, all with voice only commands. Most systems in our industry leave the "pick-up"/hands-free part out, assuming we are going to pick up the phone, or press the speaker button, to talk to it. This integration allows her to control anything on our system as well as her specific home devices with her voice via phones and the sip-n-puff system. She is able to do anything from making a phone call to watching a movie, even open the front door for someone. This is a very rewarding implementation of home automation and can also be lucrative. The caveat is to be sure to install a system that will be extremely reliable. If you are unsure of your abilities to offer this level of performance, leave it to someone else. If these systems fail, the call back will be 24/7 and you could open yourself up to liability of you endanger or cause a health risk. Worse, you could be making life harder for someone who all ready has it tough. Obviously not the goal or image our industry wants to portray. The best scenario is to find an installer or vendor of products for the disabled, who has some experience directly related to the business, and form and alliance or team up on certain jobs. Daniel E. Fulmer is president and founder of FulTech Solutions, a full service systems integration firm in Jacksonville, Fla., and the College of Smart, a dealer training facility. He can be reached at . Website: