Home automation and people with disabilities


I am moving to a new home in about a month, I have cerebral palsy and need help with most tasks. The only things that work are my brain and my toes, which I use to type. Human assistance is expensive and unreliable, so I am looking a ways to reduce my dependence on others. I have a Ph.D. with an emphasis in assistive technology. I understand technology, but I am not a programmer.

I bought a WINK and two GE Smart Bulbs, but I think ST may be a better way to go.

So far, I know I will have:

2 Schlaege smart door locks
Liftmaster garage door opener with MyQ
a thermostat I can control via iPad or iPhone 6 plus

I am looking forward to getting ideas here. I’m also curious as to how others might be using ST with people with disabilities or elderly people.



There are several topics in the forum that might be of interest to you. There’s a VA medical smart home project, for example, and some people who have automated for homes that include some family members that have disabilities.

One Person’s Experience

That said…I myself am quadriplegic, wheelchair dependent with limited hand function. I use handsfree voice for almost everything. I have had SmartThings installed for about 8 months, and just this week decided to uninstall as much of it as possible because it is so unpredictably unreliable, it’s just not safe for environmental control.

That is, most of it works most of the time, but something fails several times a week and there is rarely any notification when it does. And the “fix” proposed by support is almost always to uninstall and reinstall a lot of things, both rules and devices. That’s all quite difficult for me, and only one of my personal aides is techie, and he only comes every other week.

My disability came later in life. I can code, but I don’t want to. Using text to speech with groovy is really difficult. I also have some vision issues (double vision when I’m tired) which make it very hard to scan code for problems.


My personal guess (and it’s purely a guess) is that about a year from now there will be multiple reliable plug and play systems with some voice control for under $1500 for what I most want to do. Apple’s Homekit/Insteon will be on. Something using Amazon Echo will be another. I do fully expect SmartThings/Samsung to be a third, but they just aren’t there yet.


In the last 48 hours I experienced the following SmartThings failures:

  1. I had the system set up so that just before I go to sleep at night I press the button to put my fitness band into sleep mode, and that would trigger putting my house into "Asleep"mode as well as turn off the pathway of lights I use to get from the living room to my bedroom. Pressing the button is tricky, but with effort I can do it, and sleep monitoring is part of my pain management regiment. 3 times in the last two weeks pushing the button worked to start the sleep monitoring (not a part of SmartThings), but didn’t turn off the lights or change the ST mode.

  2. I have an automatic SmartThings action set up to put the house into “Home” mode every day at 8 a.m. Three days ago it failed to run, and has not run since. I reported it to Support, who said it was a “hiccup” on the server side and would need to be deleted and reinstalled. Easy for many people, physically difficult for me.

  3. While I was trying to diagnose 1) and 2) the diagnostic area of the official mobile app was blank much of the time. This turned out to be a known problem affecting a number of users.

Any one of these might be viewed as minor, but taken together it’s just not reliable enough for my needs, nor would I recommend it to anyone else not using it as either a fun hobby or as an easily ignored convenience system.

I missed my bus one day because the system didn’t unlock my door so I could get out. Yes, I can do that door manually if I absolutely have to, like if there was a fire. But it’s neither fast nor easy for me. This is a good example of something where an able bodied person might barely notice the inconvenience, but someone who needs environmental control might find it a major issue.

So I am waiting for another 6 months or a year until there are multiple solid reliable systems I can evaluate.


Meanwhile, the Amazon Echo is amazing for voice control of Philips Hue lights or any other bulbs (including the $15 GE links) that can be controlled by the Hue bridge. Just amazing. One Echo covers about 9 rooms in our house, and it even understands me when my voice slurs, something many other voice recognition systems have trouble with.

I am still relying on ST for automated control of my door lock, but now I accept that it may fail. At least if it does fail, it’s obvious. (I also have a service dog who can open the door once it is unlocked.)

Another option would be to go with the Lutron Caseta for HomeKit, just released this week. That would give you a thermostat, window coverings, and lights, all controlled by voice. Very nice devices, the only thing new is the Siri control.

I chose not to go with that because the door lock is a really big piece of my home automation needs due to the number of personal aides who come and go, and there are as yet no HomeKit locks released so I can’t quite tell how everything will work together.

The SmartThings Community is Great

Well, that’s a long answer but since this has just come up as a major decision point for me this week, I hope you don’t mind the details.

I really like the vision of SmartThings, staff are very helpful, and this community is super creative and helpful. But the core system just lacks the stability I need at this time.



Voice control is not an option as my speech is impaired too. Good to have your feedback on reliability issues. My assistant isn’t tech minded, so I’ll keep that in mind…

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In terms of reliability, Staples Connect has made that their top priority since the beginning, since their target market was small businesses. But they got the reliability by severely limiting the feature set (No geopresence, no IFTTT, limited devices and most of those the more expensive ones in their class). If you read their forums, you’ll see that most of the complaints are about devices they don’t have yet, not about stability with what they do have. They don’t use the internet to process their schedules, everything runs locally. SmartThings has said the next version of their hub will have more local processing, but for now, everything has to go run in California before coming back to your house with the answer.

Insteon also runs mostly locally. It had a reputation for being a little out of date, but their new commitment to HomeKit changes that. I’m waiting until that’s been out for awhile and hearing real people’s reviews before making any decisions. Plus I don’t like the door locks they work with.

If you’re using mostly Switch technology on tablets, you should know that the SmartThings mobile app is awful in terms of the UI. You frequently have to go through 5 or 6 screens to get to what you need. Everybody complains about that, but if you’re using a switch it’s so tedious. ST is promising a big UI overhaul, but not promised timeline yet.

On the other hand, SmartThings does have an IFTTT channel, which means you can set up a DO button for a single action. Or you can use the official app’s widgets. Both help with frequently used options–if they work that particular day, of course.


Here’s the medical smart home topic. It might give you some ideas no matter what technology you choose:

In my house, this is what we use:

  1. Smart lights everywhere, mostly $15 Hue White bulbs. These are great. They can be turned on or off in groups, dimmed, controlled by voice or tablet or wall switch. There’s a nice 3 toggle battery operated switch that is really easy to press (my service dog can do it, as can I with the heel of my hand) that costs $50 from SmartenIT and works with any system that uses zigbee HA 1.2. Or you can get the $25 Dimmer switch from Hue, although it doesn’t work with SmartThings. Either of those case be placed lower on the wall also. Anyway, smart lights.

One of the best things is being able to set up a “pathway” through several rooms. As someone in a wheelchair, I can’t just feel my way over to a switch, even if I can use a switch when I get there which I can’t always. So being able to turn on lights on the path from the living room to the bedroom, then turn them off again once I’m in bed, is great.

  1. the front door. I have a combination smart lock for the deadbolt, lever handle. Self locking deadbolt. So everyone else uses a combination. I have a touchless switch or a widget on my phone that unlocks it for me. Love this. I also have a proximity option that I’ve worked on a lot to get it to know me and only me when I’m about 15 feet from the door and unlock it. SmartThings implies they have this standard, but a lot of people, including me, found it didn’t work reliably. (Much discussion in the forums on presence sensors.) Anyway, mine works well now as long as ST doesn’t muck something up on the server side. I don’t need an automatic door opener because my dog does it.

  2. Things that aren’t networked: touchless soap dispenser, trashcan that opens, outdoor path lights set for wheelchair motion detection. All very helpful.

  3. Fancy TV remotes. The main goal is to reduce the number of button presses required, whether it’s on the physical device or the tablet. I really like the Harmony Home remote, but there are other options. Roomie Remote is worth looking at. It’s a totally tablet based system, has official SmartThings integration but also works with a lot of other systems. Costs some money, but if you find tablets usable, lots of options. I’m using voice with Harmony, but Switch Control with Roomie Remote might work well, I’m not sure. Worth looking into.

  4. Security systems. My personal requirements are that the system work even if power and internet are down, that it be professionally monitored, and that it communicate by cellular (not internet) to the monitoring center. All 3 let out SmartThings. I use a separate system that I pay a monthly fee for. I also have a GreatCall splash which has a one button push to have two way voice for their help center. I use this instead of a cell phone for emergencies. But it also has a monthly fee of about $15.

  5. Lifts, etc. I have these, but for technical reasons I wouldn’t hook up any of them to SmartThings even if it was reliable, because ST relies on mesh systems. Stick with hardwire controls. You’ll see all the zwave devices have a warning label: “do not use for medical equipment.” I count lifts in that.

  6. Thermostats. I don’t use a fancy one, but you can find lots of discussion in the forums.

  7. Contact sensors. I have an outer gate, so I use one as a doorbell to give me time to start transferring from the sofa to my wheelchair. I also use them on windows or cabinets in rooms that are hard to get into, so I don’t have to go in just to see if my roommate left the window open. The cleaning service tends to leave the supply cupboard open and I don’t want my dog to get in there, so that has another sensor.

  8. Motion sensors. I use these as touchless switches to turn things on. I don’t have inactivity on a motion sensor turn things off again, though–too often someone is left there in the dark. I’ll set up a second sensor you have to trigger intentionally to turn things off. But that’s just my preference, lots of people are doing fancy things with motion sensors. They’re great for foot switches, btw.

  9. Pressure mats. I don’t have these in this house, but I’ve used them before and you’ll find some forum discussion on them. For example you could have a mat at the bottom of a ramp so that when you roll over it it makes the porch light at the top of the ramp come on. Assuming, again, reliability. But they’re worth keeping in mind.

  10. Video cameras I have one for each yard on my security system, but there are no cameras that integrate well with SmartThings yet. Again, lots of forum discussion on cameras. I find these useful, including to check on the dog when he goes out. If you’re going to use a garage door closer in unattended mode, I highly recommend a camera to view the area before you or anyone else close the door remotely.

  11. video doorbell/intercom I ended up getting the $199 Kuna porch light which had a motion-activated camera, two way audio intercom, and siren. Doesn’t integrate with anything else, but I still really like it. This lets me see who’s at the door and tell them it’s OK to come in if it’s someone with the code.

Well, just some examples. :slight_smile:


Thanks! I’ll check all these out!

Forgot to say there’s no official integration with MyQ at the present time, although they keep talking about it.

There’s a community-contributed integration that will work well for awhile, then break because either ST or MyQ made a change they didn’t tell anyone about, then the community will get together, figure it out, and fix it in a day or two.

Again, not reliable enough for my purposes, but a lot of people using it.

As I mentioned previously, if you do get a garage door control that can be closed by someone who is miles away, I strongly suggest also getting a video camera to view the area first. My car has been adapted, I really don’t want it damaged. Or me, obviously!

This is great stuff and I am passing it on to the folks at the VA

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Thank you, thank you so much for this thread and all the replies. I’m in a similar situation and have had a “gut feel/intuition” that the currently available home automation hubs aren’t ready for what I’m hoping they can do. What I really don’t need is more headaches, excuses, reloading, uninstalling/reinstalling, flaky tech that works and breaks all the time. I can’t cope with that right now.

I desperately need a security system with cameras for safety reasons. I was hoping ST would come through with this because the best setup for my current application is an wireless camera for outside and wireless inside. ST has told me that they support Arlo & Dropcam but user feedback doesn’t bear that out. I don’t have the funds to blow on cameras that work now but not when I get a hub.

I’ve had the feeling that we’re on the cusp of some great things in the home automation arena but just not quite yet. For sure, the second gen products should be an improvement but with the Thread alliance increasing and Insteon support promised in some current and upcoming hubs, that will open up a lot of options for additional integrated automation.

I’m so sorry to hear all the grief that so many have experienced with things not working properly. Once again, many thanks for sharing your experiences and expectations of where this sector is heading. I do think that it’s a area that will grow quickly and exponentially because the high saturation of smartphones we have now means that there are loads of people who are able to use these for automation & “Internet Of Things” applications and manufacturers can’t rely on new market share for smartphone sales so they must be looking at this sector (and similar ones) for increasing their profits.

Please continue to share your experiences and if you find something that works well, I’d love to hear about it.

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Quick update in September 2015 after migrating the second generation of the hub:

While the basic reliability issues still exist, the SmartThings/echo integration, new since I wrote my first post, is fantastic. It makes Amazon echo 100 times better. Although the basic integration for SmartThings/Echo is technically the same as for wink or Insteon, because SmartThings allows the use of virtual switches, and allows routines and smartapps to subscribe to switch changes and cause other events to happen, the SmartThings/Echo integration is much more extensive than any other currently available controller.

For example, using virtual switches and the SmartThings/harmony integration I am now able to get fully granular voice control over my home entertainment system. I can say “turn on Netflix”, but I can also say “turn on Netflix pause” and have Netflix pause, which is pretty amazing. Basically any button on the harmony handheld remote which can be added to your harmony activity can be operated as a voice command from Echo by using SmartThings as the intermediary. :sunglasses: That is seriously awesome.

People who don’t have good vocalization but who can use switch controls on a tablet could also get the same level of control.

So since I first wrote, SmartThings has become an essential part of my home entertainment system. For $99, it would be worth it just for that.

The doorlock functionality is more reliable than it was, particularly since I switched to using ibeacons, but it still fails two or three times a month. I really like it when it works, and I curse it every time it fails. But it’s certainly better than not having it. (The door lock itself still works, it just means I have to use the touchpad rather than having it automatically recognize that I have arrived home. It’s doable, but much more tiring than the automatic unlock. )

So I am much happier with SmartThings now than I was a few months ago. Once I accepted that it just didn’t have the same kind of reliability as a typical environmental control system, and looked at it as a way of adding convenience when it was working, I found that it really improved my life at home a lot. Yes, sometimes I say “turn on ESPN TV” and it doesn’t work. But it does work over 80% of the time, and when it is working, it’s amazing. This is functionality I just didn’t have before. It’s fast, it’s easy, and it’s fun.

It’s obvious now that the times when it does fail wouldn’t be half as annoying if it wasn’t that it’s so helpful when it works. If this were one of the $50,000 home automation systems, the reliability rate wouldn’t be acceptable. But given the price range, there’s no question that it’s well worth the money that I’ve paid for it. You just have to plan ahead, so that you always have an alternative method for those times when it’s not working. :sunglasses:


Finally wrote up a project report on my phase 1 budget strategy. :sunglasses:


Once again thanks for all the work that you are doing. I have learned allot from how you have tackled the various tasks at hand.

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As I’m sure you know from your own experience, “having a disability” covers a very wide range of specific capability.

Knowing that someone is a wheelchair user doesn’t really tell you very much about what that person is physically capable of. Someone might still have excellent upper body strength. They might be nearly fully paralyzed. They might be like me, and have significant weakness in all four limbs, but still be able to do a directed hand wave. Others can only nod their heads. Someone might have good trunk control, or need to be strapped in.

I can’t grasp things tightly, but I can sort of scoop them up with two hands together. Not everyone can do that. At physiotherapy where I go they teach eight different ways to go through a door in a wheelchair, depending on the person’s specific abilities.

I can speak, and don’t have any cognitive challenges, but my voice does slur sometimes and can be difficult understand. Other people can’t use voice technology at all. Some people can use their toes, which I cannot. Many people have cognitive challenges which means that controls may need to be visually very distinct, and perhaps simplified.

Some people have a stable situation, like an amputee. Others may have a progressive condition where things get worse over time. And still others have highly variable conditions where some days the disability may have almost no impact on their capabilities, while other days have very significant limitations.

So there’s just a lot of variation. Consequently, the tasks that I need automated might be very different from the tasks that benefit someone else. Still, I find it I learn a lot every time I hear about different ways to approach problems. Even if I can’t use a specific solution, it may give me an idea for how to divide a problem into parts, or introduce new tools I could use in a different situation.

For me one of the most important lessons in approaching assistive technology has been that idea of breaking a problem into parts so that an appropriate solution can be built that matches both my needs and my budget. :sunglasses:


Yes, I agree with your process of breaking the tasks apart and working on them with the idea of building a solution that matches needs and budget. I have taken the slow and careful approach myself.

I go back and forth in being in and out of the wheelchair, largely due to dialysis and it’s affects on me. Sometimes, like tonight, I do well and can get around the house with the walker. After a bad dialysis run, I can have a week to a month of not being able to lift myself or take care of myself. This doesn’t happen often, but enough that I have to design HA around the idea that I might not be able to handle my basic needs. I have 2 room mates that live in the house with me, but they work during the day so I am not always with assistance, I am sure you know how that is as well. On good days, not a problem, on bad days… I manage it, you have to, no choice.

I am very glad that you put so much effort in helping here. We in the community are very fortunate that you take all that time, to make sure that others learn from what you are doing to improve your environment.


Thanks so much to both of you for sharing some of your situation and what you’ve accomplished. It really encourages me as I’m coping with my own disabilities and limitations and I’m wanting to use HA to help in similar ways. I really appreciate it.


@Raeven Just let us know if we can be of help. I know that @JDRoberts is very good with describing what needs to be done, or what can be done (SMILE). As for me. I will try to help anyway that I can. Let us know what you are planning to do and what you need, maybe we can offer suggestions?

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