Assistive Technology for Safety and Security
There are three types of products related to safety and security that may be of interest to people with disabilities:
- Products that provide redundant alerts for people who are deaf or hard of hearing
- Products that allow people with various disabilities to signal for help
- Products that provide assistance to people with cognitive disabilities
This article covers all three.
Most alarm systems use a loud sound. People with hearing loss need a redundant signaling method that uses lights, vibration, or both, or may connect to a lamp that flashes when activated. These features are available on smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, burglar alarms, and baby monitors; many can be found in home improvement stores or big box retailers.
Alarms in public locations are required by law to use flashing lights in addition to sound.
Many systems are available to let individuals signal for help when they are alone. However, most of these require an initial button press on a pendant or base unit, which can be difficult or impossible for people with dexterity disabilities. Some systems have a switch interface, which allows the user's switch of choice to be plugged in for activation.
Some mobile phones have an 'ICE' (in case of emergency) key that the user can program to call 9-1-1 or any other number.
Cognitive Safety/Security Aids
People with memory loss or cognitive disabilities may benefit from technology that either provides alerts or takes an active role in preventing injury. For example, some signaling products can let individuals know that an appliance or faucet has been left on. Others will automatically turn off stoves if no motion is detected in the kitchen within a reasonable amount of time, or prevent water temperatures from becoming scalding hot.
People with Alzheimers or other more significant disabilities may also need assistance if they wander and become lost. Monitoring systems are available to alert caregivers when an individual has left their expected environment, and may also indicate the individual's current location.
Some of these features are available on mainstream wireless devices and as part of wireless service plans. For example, Family Locator from Verizon is intended for parents to monitor their children's whereabouts, but can be used in other ways.
Everyone (not just people with disabilities) should have an active plan for different types of emergencies, including notification, communication, transportation, and life support. All communities have an emergency preparedness function that you should coordinate with -- they are receptive to any information about their citizens with disabilities.
Institutions like libraries and schools also need their emergency plans to be disability-aware.