Environmental Control

Switching devices and independence of disabled people

An environmental control system is a switching device that allows a disabled person to control many aspects of his or her home environment from a single unit, and the prescription of one may allow people with severe physical disabilities to continue to be independent and to live at home.

The most common equipment that can be controlled is a door intercom, telephone, lighting, and domestic appliances such as television, radio, and video recorder. The system can be operated in various ways, from simple hand or foot switches to more complex chin controls, suck- puff controls, and even controls governed by eye movements. (Image Source: Possum Controls)

Environmental controls can have a major impact on the lives of severely disabled people, not only by enhancing their independence but also by reducing the stress and workload on their carers. (Source: BMJ )

Useful overview of Environmental Controls (Source: Enable Ireland)
Possum Controls picture

Terry mentions the Activ 500 Environmental Control unit. It's key features include an integral voice output facility as well as numerous multi layered information screens to allow user friendly access to a host of communication and control choices. More information . . .

Source: Assistivetechnologies.com

What's available

This video is dedicated to demonstrating some of the communication aid technologies currently available on the market -- and to showing why these technologies are invaluable to people with ALS (MND).

Welcome to the 'Smart Home'

Environmental Control Resources and Suppliers:

  • Angel. Angel ECU is an assistive technology manufacturer based in Florida USA, that develops and produces advanced control systems for individuals with spinal cord injury, and other disabilities. The Angel FX is an envoronmental control system that enables individuals, afflicted with severe disabilities, to control Lighting, Heating & Air Conditioning, Communications, Audio / Video Equipment, Bed Control, Nurse Call Systems, and many other devices within their home, office, or other facility. More information about this product . . .

    John Farese, a quadriplegic uses the Angel FX:

    Another Angel FX user:

  • QualiLife

    QualiLife has built a platform offering all the various methods of mouse control and click options plus modules to allow the user to access the internet, use the telephone, write messages using our state of the art on-screen keyboard and send by phone, fax, email and text. The software includes screen readers and text to speech converters. In addition the QualiWorld platform offers access to Television, DVD, Environmental controls, IP Webcams, Virtual Reality Images and Games including Chess and Cards. Case studies of QualiLife users . . .

  • Possum

    Suppliers of Environmental Control and Alternative and Augmentative Communication.

    Using a switch and a Possum Primo to access a cell phone

    Possum Primo Touch Screen Control

    Possum Primo

    Possum Primo Example Screen

    Possum Primo with example screen display

    Possum Primo demo video 1

    Possum Primo demo video 2

  • Environmental Controls and computers (source AbleData)

  • Indigo. Environmental control software for Mac OS X

  • Toby Churchill

    adVOCATe+ deviceEnvironment control with adVOCAte+ which includes trainable infrared which can learn the IR codes and operate a wide range of Home Entertainment Equipment, and also a library of infrared codes to operate a wide range of third party Environmental Control peripherals.

  • Broaden Horizons - Voice and IR Powered Environmental Controls

    Environmental control by Voice, Switch or IR

    X10 voice control unitThe X10 ECU forms the basis of the package, with additional add-ons to enable more independent use.

    More information videos . . .

    The X10 independence package

  • Switching a computer on/off independently

    If you are unable to switch your computer on/off because of your disability, just how do you do it, other than asking someone else to do it for you? The answer is some form of remote control or automation. Consider these snippets, which were found on forums questioning the possibilities:

    "If you are doing a Shut Down operation, your computer will go to a powered-off state. This is different than the Sleep mode described in the How-To article above. There are several ways that the computer can turn on from the powered-off state and all of them can be controlled from the BIOS / Setup Utility that is available immediately after power-on. Usually you press a key such as F2 or Del to enter the Setup menu. Once there look for a Power or Power-up section. The modem is one device that can wake a system up over a phone line (sometimes called Ring Indicate or RI). "
    Source: HowToGeek

    "Most recent computers are not just "off". Normally there is a small amount of hardware active as long as the power supply is plugged in ("standby power" ). Google for ACPI, standby power, power management and similar terms for more information. (Ever noticed that the on/off switch is not a normal light-switch type switch? It's a simple push button, and its function can even be programmed on many computers. When you switch your computer on, there's some electronics already active that checks this switch. It's then the electronics, not the switch itself, that powers the computer.)."
    Source: TomsHardware

    You could always try and do what this electronics expert put together:

    Source: Starlino.com

iPortal. Turn an iPhone into an environmental control

iPortal™ is a power chair accessory that connects to an iPhone or iPod touch to display wheelchair information in real time. It is Dynamic Controls' latest solution to help enhance the quality of life of people living with a disability. It is a unique approach to wheelchair displays that not only shows information in an exciting, easy to read way but brings the latest mainstream technology to the chair. It is compatible with Dynamic Controls Shark, DX, and DX2 control systems, and NOW iPhone 4.

image of iPortal screen

With an optional upgrade coming soon, the next generation iPortal™ allows access to the world to those with limited hand mobility. Using the wheelchair's joystick, users can now make and receive phone calls, surf the net, play music, and use speech applications on their iPod touch or iPhone.

Mobile Phone Apps to help you control your environment

With the advent of devices such as the Iphone and Android devices it is now possible for you to use your mobile device as a remote control.

Griffin Beacon

Page Turners

FLIP Page Turner.

The Flip™ Automatic Page Turner is an electronic page turner that can be operated through the buttons on the front of the device or via switch access. The turner can be used to turn a single page at a time with a press of the switch or five pages if the switch is held down. When two switches are connected to the device they can be used for directional turning of the page.

Book Time Automatic page turner

Home made automatic page turner

Gewa BLV 6D page turner

Gewa page turner

Image: ZygoAustralia

TURNY page turner

Turny page turner (TURNY Blattwendeger├Ąt)

Image: Rehavista

QiCare Page turner

QiCare is an automated page-turning device that is triggered by signals to automatically turn the pages of magazines and periodicals backwards and forwards. Depending on the specific user requirements, it can be combined with a wide variety of triggering mechanisms, whether it's via voice signals, foot switch or finger switch. Watch a video demonstration here!
QiCare reading butler
Image: QuiCare.at

Hands free remote Control of an Entertainment System

In this article I will describe how to set up an entertainment system that can be completely controlled without the use of your hands. This capability would be of interest to anyone who has limited or no hand dexterity or anyone who has difficulties operating a traditional remote control unit.

Please read the section dealing with "Head-trackers and dwell-and-click software" elsewhere on this website as a starting point for this discussion.
The entertainment system can be controlled hands-free as follows:
  1. TV - channel/volume up/down, select Guide for immediate viewing or later recording
  2. Music - listen to your entire music collection by artist, song, genre, playlist or all your favorite cuts based on a previously assigned rating
  3. Pictures - view all your stored digital pictures
  4. Videos - view all your stored videos
  5. DVD - menu selections, fast forward/reverse, pause, stop, eject
  6. FM radio - dial stations by presets or frequency
  7. Internet Radio - select free stations by genre
This article will describe what hardware and software you need to set up such a system. All the entertainment and computer hardware is standard, unmodified equipment which is available from any electronics retailers such as BestBuy, Costco etc. The main software is standard Microsoft Vista and you also need an amazing free program called Webguide 4 from www.asciiexpress.com/webguide. I'm not sure if Webguide 4 will work with Windows 7, please let me know if anyone tries it.

The Big Picture

The remote control

A laptop with head-tracker and dwell-and-click software will play the role of the remote control. In my case I have a standard Windows XP laptop with a Madentec head controller and the free Point-N-Click virtual mouse.

The laptop sits on a stand from Airdesks www.airdesks.com. The stand allows me to place the laptop anywhere near to where I'm sitting out of the line of sight of the TV. It also gets a hot and heavy laptop off my knees. The laptop has a Wi-fi connection to a Wireless G or N router which is connected to a Hi-speed Internet service.
Environmental Control - Global Assistive Technology Wiki
The entertainment system
The main video/audio component is another PC (this can be a laptop but ideally a desktop) with the Microsoft Mediacenter capability. All Vista versions with the exception of Home Basic have this capability. If you purchase a preconfigured Mediacenter computer it will likely have the correct version of Vista but double check this. The mediacenter PC should also be connected to the Wireless router. Preferably via a direct Ethernet cable rather than a wireless antenna.
The connector nightmare
You should carefully check the connection possibilities of the Mediacenter PC that you plan to buy in order to ensure it will connect to your all of your existing components such as TV, antenna, cable/satellite set-top-box (STB) and to your surround sound system if you have one.
For example my STB has S-video out for video and for audio it has RCA and digital coax out so I had to make sure that the built-in TV tuner card in the mediacenter PC had matching input connectors. The first TV I used was a 10 year old analog TV with an S-video input so I had to make sure that the Graphics card in the mediacenter PC had a corresponding S-video output connector. I then upgraded my TV to a new LCD model with HDMI input connectors. My mediacenter PC only had DVI output but I was able to buy a DVI to HDMI adapter cable for a crystal clear digital video signal. Sound was carried over to my surround sound system via a digital coax connection. Sorry to get so technical but this connector business is unnecessarily complex and needs careful consideration. Also there are a variety of ways to make the connections. Bottom line: take a list of your existing components to your retailer and ask for a matching mediacenter PC. It might also help if you take close up digital pictures of the connectors (usually the back of your components) and take them6 with you to the store.
Vista Mediacenter setup
After getting your hardware physically connected properly the Vista Mediacenter software setup is the easy part.
You tell the Mediacenter (hereafter referred to as MC) which television service you are with: antenna, Dishnet, Comcast, Bell TV, Rogers, etc and MC will setup your online TV guide. It will help you set up your set-top-box(STB) if you have one. The MC controls the STB channel selection via an IR blaster which comes with the MC hardware.
You then tell the MC a little bit about your TV and your audio setup and you should be up and running for TV viewing and Personal Video Recorder functions. You get Tivo like functions standard with MC and you pay no monthly fee.
Music setup
You can play CD's in the normal fashion by loading each CD individually. But I wanted to have ALL my music from all my CD's available at all times so I decided to "Rip" all of my CD's to my MC computers' library. I used the Microsoft Windows Media Player (WMP) in Rip mode. As soon as you load a CD the WMP will transfer all your tracks to the MC in MP3 format. It will also automatically look up all the album info such as artist and track name, genre etc. so you can easily find the music you want. It even downloads a picture of the album cover art.
You can also import your iTunes tracks and any other MP3 tracks that you already own to add to your MC library. All tracks must be in either MP3 or WMA format and you simply stick them into the "My Music" folder.
I took the extra step of assigning a 1 to 5 star rating to every track, which in my case indicates how well I like the song. That way I can play all my favorites only or my favorites by genre (i.e. 5 star Reggae) or artist (i.e. 5 star Clapton) or by year etc. I assigned ratings to over 5,000 tracks, lots of work but well worth. Then I quickly backed everything up (12 GB) to three separate places. All this prep work was very labour intensive and I wouldn't want to have to redo everything if my MC computer blew up.
FM radio
This function is built into the MC software. Just make sure that your MC TV tuner includes an FM tuner.

The Magic Ingredient -Webguide 4

This delightful free piece of software allows your head-controlled laptop to be the remote control for all the functions and content of your Mediacenter computer.
Simply download and install Webguide 4 from www.asciiexpress.com/webguide on the mediacenter PC.

There is a simple installation process to follow and when finished Webguide will give you a special website name. To turn the laptop into a Mediacenter remote control you start your browser (Internet Explorer and Google Chrome are both ok, not sure about Firefox?) and then enter the special website name that the MC Webguide configuration provided for you earlier into the URL address field.
You then enter your userid/password and turn on the check mark next to Remote Control in settings which is the box with the 3 dots in the top right side of the Webguide 4 screen.

A tiny Remote Control icon will appear to the left of the 3 dot settings are. Click on the icon and a virtual remote control should appear on your laptop screen. Your laptops' headtracker and dwell-and-click software should now facilitate complete hands-free control of the mediacenter functions. The laptop now wirelessly remote controls a totally separate MC entertainment system.
Access your media from anywhere in your residence.
If you turn the remote control checkmark off in the Webguide settings (3 dots) then your family can be watching the main mediacenter TV in one room and you could be anywhere else in your residence or outside (in reach of your wireless router signal) and be independently watching MC video or listening to your audio library content. Webguide 4 turns your laptop into a Mediacenter extender!

Environmental Control - Global Assistive Technology Wiki
Final thoughts
There are many ways to implement this kind of system. I have heard that a Slingbox from Sling Media can also provide remote control functionality. I chose the Webguide 4 solution because it was free and was specifically designed for the Vista mediacenter. It works extremely well and is very stable. You need loads of hard disk space especially if you are planning to store many hours of video. I have a 500 GB drive and have occasionally been bumping against the limit.

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