Home Automation and AAC
This page is intended to be helpful for others with mobility and/or speech disabilities. It is simply a list of the basic steps I have taken to keep my home automation and AAC systems current with my needs as my ALS progresses. Because these systems represent a special interest for me, they have become quite elaborate. The list below describes only the most basic components and functions of the systems. Please contact me if you need help developing your own system.
1. Approx. June 1999 – Purchased and programmed Pronto universal remote.
The muscles in my hands and fingers had become weak enough that I could no longer depress the buttons on a standard remote control. I purchased and programmed a Pronto universal remote. This device was useful because commands are input via a touch screen (less force required), and because it's capable of learning macros. Macros allow you to program a string of commands that can be executed with a single touch of the screen.
Because the muscles in my hands were weak, but I still had some strength in my arms, I could move the mouse around, but couldn't depress the buttons. I modified a standard mouse by wiring in a small plastic box that contained female 1/8 inch phono jacks. These jacks accepted standard switches, and in my case, I used Jelly Bean Switches mounted under the front edge of the desk (see photo). I moved the mouse around with my right hand while using the large muscles of my left arm to pull up on the buttons (see photo). I think there are now off the shelf switch interface boxes that perform the same function.
My hands had become too weak to operate the Pronto, so I needed another way to operate my entertainment center. I used my laptop with a Tracker 2000 head mouse and MouseTool dwell software for the foundation of the system. Placing the reflective dot on the brim of a baseball cap amplifies the movement of your head. I then purchased, installed and programmed PowerHome home automation software. To produce the infrared signals required to operate the entertainment center I used a RedRat. This is a device that plugs into a USB port on your computer and produces infrared signals like a remote control. PowerHome is also capable of controlling X-10 devices and running macros, so I purchased various X-10 modules and used them to control fans, lights, etc.
I could no longer move my arms enough to push the desktop mouse around or pull on the switches. I installed the Tracker 2000 and built a switch system I could operate by bulging my cheek "bullfrog style" (see photo). I used an old telephone headset, and attached a light touch switch with paper medical tape (see photo). Because this provided only one switch input, I use MouseTool dwell software which I only turn on for left clicks.
Because I could no longer speak audibly due to a tracheotomy, I replaced the old laptop with a DynaVox DV4. This allowed me to communicate and also control the entertainment center. I used an Extreme Head Mouse with my "cheek switch" to interface. See tips for "Communication with a Speech Impaired Person".
Disappointed with the slow performance of the DynaVox DV4, I purchased a new laptop and installed PowerHome for home automation, and DynaVox Series 4 software for communication. This solved the performance problem and also allowed me to load the Series 4 software on my desktop for word processing projects. Through continuous refinement to the Series 4 software, I'm building a program that is extremely efficient for typing things like emails or this document. Because the new laptop has a high resolution widescreen, and the Extreme Head Mouse has no acceleration features, I was having trouble moving across the laptop screen with one head movement. I changed to the Tracker One head mouse which has two acceleration settings, and my head movement problems were solved.
7. Approx. January, 2009 – Replaced laptop with open Dynavox Vmax
I tried out the new Dynavox Vmax with Series 5 Software at my local ALS clinic, and really liked it. I used Medicare and MDA funding to purchase my own Vmax and Tracker Pro. This together with a wireless network adapter and wheelchair mount gives me full computer access and communication abilities from my chair. I can also control my entertainment center, complete with macros, from my Vmax. I am really enjoying the freedom this system provides.