The gentle sounds of the Orcas setting on the Amazon Echo Dot alarm wakes Suria from sleep. ‘Alexa, Start my Day‘, Suria requests. ‘Good morning!‘ greets Alexa. ‘In Philadelphia you can expect a sunny day with a high of 55 degrees and a low of 47 with a chance of rain in the afternoon‘. A quick run through of the morning’s top news stories and local traffic conditions completes Alexa’s pre-programmed ‘Start my Dayroutine.

After Suria sustained a spinal cord injury in 2015, she and her husband, Kirby, realized that changes needed to be made in their Philadelphia home so that Suria could continue to actively engage in everyday life. Using standard consumer technology together with Kirby’s technological expertise, they began to transform their home. Today, Suria and Kirby live in a state of the art ‘Smart Home‘ that has been adapted to meet Suria’s needs.

It’s early and the overnight caregiver has not yet started her morning shift. Suria commands the X-Box to turn on the morning news, and as she listens to the latest developments from bed, she goes over her day’s to-do list. ‘Alexa, add “meeting notes” to my to-do list’ she requests. She continues, using the Echo Show to delete the items completed the day before without having to repeat the wake-word.

The new Follow-Up Mode feature allows you to string Alexa commands together without having to say ‘Alexa‘ each time. Soon after, the caregiver enters to help her get ready for the day.

Suria works from her office desk at home

As a Tax Senior Manager at Ernst and Young LLP in Philadelphia, Suria does most of her work from her home office. Her office desk area has been customized to allow her to work as efficiently as possible. A button adjusts the table height for the wheelchair. Both her laptop’s and her desktop computer’s screens are open to allow her to look at two documents at the same time so that she does not have to flip between pages. Her iPad sits on the desk to her right, always within reach for a third screen or to record conference calls with her HT Recorder, since she is not able to physically write notes.

A woman looks down at a smartphone attached to the arm of her wheelchair. On the screen is a view of a visitor at her front door.
Suria checks who the visitor is at the front door using her smartphone.

Suria’s right hand controls a track ball, which is an adaptive mouse that allows her to scroll using her palm and also to double click, press and drag. Her left hand controls a dowel that allows her to type on the keyboard. Phone calls can be made from the computer as well as the office desk phone used on speaker, and a table microphone allows her to do dictation with Dragon.

Suria hears the front door open and looks up from her computer. ‘Alexa, show me the front door’ she asks, and the Nest cam shows that her caregiver is letting herself in with her own personal code that is programmed into the Smart door lock. The caregiver, in turn, checks her IPhone to see where Suria is in the house.  It’s time for lunch, and they meet in the kitchen. ‘Alexa, turn on the kitchen lights!‘ and the Smart light bulbs illuminate the kitchen area. Suria remembers they are out of coffee, and she asks Alexa to show the shopping list. She deletes the items no longer needed, and adds coffee. She knows that Kirby will check this list remotely on his Alexa app on his phone, and pick up the remaining items.

Suria has already ordered Thai food through Uber Eats, an Alexa skill  enabled on her Echo that allows her to order prepared food. When the Smart doorbell rings, Suria can see on her IPad that it is the delivery person, and tells him to come in.  She commands the Echo to open the automatic door and lunch is served!

Suria, a wheelchair user, is on a ramp to access her home.
Suria, a wheelchair user, had a ramp installed to access her home.

Suria speaks to Susan Tachau, executive director of the Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Project, at the March 2018 Smart Home Made Simple advisory board meeting
Suria speaks to Susan Tachau, executive director of the Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Project, at the March 2018 Smart Home Made Simple advisory board meeting

Suria’s Amazon Echo devices, as well as her IPad, IPhone and Xbox, connect her to her home as well as the world outside. They give her independence and privacy,  keep her safe, manage her personal finances, entertain her, and allow her to perform at her job. She is an active member of the advisory board for the Smart Homes Made Simple project and participates in meetings both in person and from home.

On any given work day afternoon from home, Suria may be using her Amazon Show for setting up meetings, for participating in conference calls or dictating past work meetings, scheduling appointments and for making phone calls to others who also have a Show. With her IPad  she checks emails and social media, records work meetings, schedules future transportation, does online research, and manages her finances. She can take a break from work and play a game like Words with Friends , also on the IPad.

‘Alexa, set a timer for ten minutes.’

(The chocolate chip cookies in the oven should be perfect by then, and just in time for movie night).  

Kirby and Suria are deciding what to watch on TV after dinner, and Suria instructs Alexa to ‘Start Movie Night‘. The lights dim, the Nest thermostat turns the heat up, and the window shades close. Another example of an Alexa ‘routine’, this one sets the evening mood with three different actions using just one command.

New ways to streamline the Echo’s functions like this are evolving rapidly. Using an applet with an IFTTT account also strings together several devices at a time, as does using a Wink hub to create ‘shortcuts’! The Flic button can activate a series of events with just the press of a button. Flic has a pre-programmed ‘Ultimate Wake Up‘ button that makes your coffee, as well as an ‘Ultimate Go to Bed’ button that even warms up your bed! The possibilities seem endless, and yet still increase every day.

Alexa, Good Night‘ Suria says softly. She’s finished listening to her audio book in bed with her IPad, and it’s time for sleep. With the Good Night command, Alexa turns out the lights and sets the alarm to wake up with the gentle sounds of the Orcas setting.

It’s been a long day, and a very productive one.  Smart Home Technology helped with that.


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