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Guidelines Cover Accessibility For Smart Homes Of The Future

The latest version of a set of guidelines for accessible design in ICT systems, including information on making technology-enabled ‘smart homes’ accessible to disabled and elderly people, has been released by a leading consultant.

The guidelines are produced by John Gill OBE, consultant in technology for persons with disabilities and former chief scientist at the Royal National Institute of Blind People. Gill has compiled the guidance over a number of years, as an introduction to building accessible systems in a wide range of areas. A checklist, showing how different accessibility considerations in types of ICT equipment can aid different types of impairment, is also included.

Topics covered include telecommunications, including mobile phones and video phones; financial transactions, including online banking; computing, including software and web accessibility; transport, including passenger information systems; and e-government, including electronic voting.

One area explored in the guidelines is how to increase the accessibility of ‘smart homes’, where technology systems or services have been built into a home to improve the quality of life for people including disabled and elderly residents.

The guidelines give the example of a lighting system controlled by pressure pads. The system would automatically switch on the relevant lights when the householder gets out of bed and goes to the bathroom during certain hours of the night. Additionally, a safety alarm could be set off if the householder does not leave the bathroom after a specified time.

Recommendations for making “smart home” technology accessible include providing voice-operated or hands-free facilities where possible, and displaying any screen information in a range of formats.

A new inclusion for the latest version of the guidelines is a section on “smart meters” – newer designed electricity and gas meters that offer real-time readings and allow users to easily manage their energy supply. Accessibility issues advised on include positioning and representation of the smart meter display; options for speech output; and design of function buttons.

Gill told E-Access Bulletin that the guidelines were written after he began receiving enquiries from companies asking how to design accessibility into their products. “I often find that the designers are looking for information about accessibility since it has been specified or mentioned by the client (typically a service provider). This does not mean that either party has any clear idea as to what is involved in designing an accessible system, or how to assess it prior to deployment”, he said.

The guidelines have recently been updated, and need frequent editing and additions because of constant changes in technologies, legislation and standards, Gill said. New sections on the accessibility of televisions, smartphones and tablet computers are currently being written by Gill and his team.

The guidelines are available at: .
Short Link: .


  1. Tom Worthington | March 2nd, 2013 | 12:27 am

    Voice and other hands-free controls would be useful for the population generally, as well as those with a disability. Designers of smart home controls and displays tend to make them too complex, so an accessible design would benefit everyone.

    However, I question the value of controls and displays for smart homes. A truly smart home should anticipate needs and adjust, without having any explicit input from the occupants and any need for them to look at displays.

    Also homes can be designed for accessibility by using some very low tech, low cost techniques. A good example of this low tech approach are the accessible apartments at City Edge Canberra, provided by a not-for-profit association. These have adjustable height kitchen benches (including the sink and stove top) with a windup mechanism adapted from office furniture. The wireless controlled front doors use garage door openers. More on this in my blog.

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