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2018: A year of Accessibility Technology and Design

2018: A year of Accessibility Technology and Design

It’s only been 4 months into 2018 but we have already enjoyed some pretty great things including the winter Olympics (remember the amazing Chloe Kim) and blockbuster movies like Black Panther. What does this New Year bring for accessibility trends?

With the aging of the Baby Boomers, a main focus for designers and their renovation team in 2018 is bringing more accessibility technology, products, and home remodels to the public. While new tech and products are great, seniors are often challenged to balance the competing desire to stay active and independent in their own home with the cost of remodeling or investing in one of these tech solutions. This is on top of simply adjusting to the facts of aging, and the developing physical limitations that often comes with it.

We empathize! And we often help people understand the importance of balancing the immediate costs of investing in your home with the long-term higher cost of NOT renovating. People prefer to stay in their homes where they have independence and where they’ve made memories. Seniors are also understanding it’s more cost efficient to remodel than to finance long-term care at a retirement home, which often runs $4,500 – $6,000 per month. Over one year that’s $54,000 – $72,000 dollars! You can get a lot of home remodeling for much less than that. And with financing options, it’s getting easier for seniors or anyone who has a tighter budget.

There’s more and better on the horizon. New companies are creating new technologies to make homes comfortable, safe, and easy to use. Artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the technologies that’s leading the way in accessibility trends. Products like SofiHub are at the center of the “smart home” of the future. SofiHub’s AI technology learns the user’s behaviors and habits and couples this with customized options that address the needs and challenges identified by that user. The system is programmed or tailored to the individual’s needs and habits, creating a virtual personal assistant of sorts. It’s a wireless and touch-free system that can raise an alert if something unexpected happens – like not taking medications as normal or if the user stays in bed very late and doesn’t eat that day (meaning maybe they’re sick). The system will also alert specified family members of abnormal behaviors (leaving the stove on or the front door open) and accidents (like a fall in the bathroom). The system is user-friendly because seniors don’t have to speak or press any buttons. Yet, the system is easily customizable via an app program. The user also doesn’t have to wear any sensors or smart devices.

Multi-generational homes are on the rise. AI technology like this can help in those homes too, especially when some of the caregiving for elderly grandparents or parents falls to younger family members. Automated sensors and alerts ease the burden of providing constant vigilance and care whether everyone lives in the same household or not.

Other trends are aimed at caregivers and family members are emerging. Products like Lili Smart are used between the senior and different “circles” of caregivers. One circle could be family members and another may be doctors or nurses who provide different support. Grandma or grandpa wears a smartwatch and the home is outfitted with sensors. Using this, family and caregivers can be at ease knowing they’ll get fall alerts, and their loved one will get medication reminders, other reminders and so on. For those concerned with “big brother” and a loss of privacy, no fear! The sensors do not have any recording capabilities for privacy reasons. Lili Smart is an emerging technology, not yet fully launched in the US, but it shows what’s possible – and whats coming.

Today’s seniors are also warming up to the idea of non-traditional renovations to their homes which enables them to stay in the places that they’ve worked so hard to build for their golden years. Additionally, newer homes are being built with smart technology and have features that will accommodate wireless systems in the future, thus making it easier to install any one of these systems.

New trends of 2018 have gained even greater traction in bringing technological innovations to individuals who use American Sign Language (ASL). Though still in its prototype stage, SignAll has the potential to translate ASL into text visible on a screen! Users will purchase webcams, a sensor, and software to translate their signs for others to read and communicate with integrated services like Alexa which rely upon voice activation. The system is fully customizable to each user, since the language is set by an initial session in which the computer will ‘learn’ the user’s signs before merging those with a natural language program. The sensors also record facial expressions, body language, and rhythm of speech before translating. All these aspects create a more “natural” feeling conversation between someone hearing and someone hearing impaired! What’s more, the SignAll system also makes modifications as it learns its user individual speech better over time. SignAll is bringing accessibility out of the home and into the public spaces, making it easier for someone hearing impaired to get things done easily. Imagine being a sign language user who can easily “talk” with others using a smartphone screen that translates their sign language into fully formed sentences to be read or heard by others at the bank, grocery store, or doctor’s office. Running errands will only be a hassle because of traffic, not communication issues.

Lastly, other trends center on the aesthetics of accessibility features. Designers are focused on making common upgrades like curbless showers sleek so that they become a beautiful feature of the home – rather than a concession to decreased mobility. Newer accessibility ramps are better integrated into the home’s architecture and have landscaping to help blend into the overall look of the property. The kitchen, still the center of the home in many places, has been redesigned as more features are moved to the back wall including pipes to allow for wheelchair accessibility. Features like wider doorways and open-floor plans will continue to dominate as top remodel projects but will be carried out with greater attention to appearances as well as functionality.

There’s a lot happening for accessibility in 2018. And they’re features EVERYONE can use and love.

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