Technology Enables Integrators and Manufacturers to Help People
with Special Needs
Todd Jarvis (center) made liberal use of sensors, installing Sonic SPY-4 “curtain” monitors that turn on local lights at night
his wheelchair-bound brother moves through his house. Jarvis is pictured with Vantage rep Chad Ballard of Paradigm System (right) and Steve Cooper of Sterling Home Technologies (left).
Rachelle Friedman’s life changed forever in 2010
when a prank at her bachelorette party caused her
to hit her head on the bottom of a pool, resulting in
paralysis. Friedman has adapted to her condition
courageously–NBC News reported that she’s
making substantial progress in rehabilitation and
she’s announced her intention to one day walk
again and to have a baby. And that determination
has been supported by AV systems technology
that helps her interface with the house she and her
fiancé had bought before the accident, allowing her
to use everything from the kitchen to the secondfloor
This kind of residential systems assistance is
making lives that have suddenly changed forever
a bit easier, and in the process, opening up the
discussion between integrators and clients about how,
ultimately, all lives will change and have to face limits.
Mark Masters, sales and marketing director for
Neuwave Systems, in Raleigh, NC, where Friedman
also lives, said he heard about the bride-to-be’s
plight through the local homebuilder’s association’s
remodeling committee, on which he sits. Integrators
from Neuwave Systems joined local building trades
to renovate the Friedmans’ home. This included
installing an elevator from the garage
that accesses the main and the second floor, as well
as a remodeling of the home’s kitchen to lower
countertops and make appliances more accessible.
A Control4 HC-300 home controller allows this
system to be viewed via an on-screen TV interface.
Flat-screen displays in the master bedroom and
bath and 12 zones of lighting are controlled via
a combination of a Control4 7-inch portable
touchscreen, 6-button touchpanels installed at a
36-inch height for accessibility–Control4 donated a
substantial part of the home’s AV complement, just
as Neuwave contributed its labor and expertise pro
bono–and Friedman’s own Apple iPad.
“A project like this really shows how the iPad
and tablets in general have become so ubiquitous in
everyday life and how they can be easily integrated
into system like this,” Masters said.
It’s also made Masters more aware of how
residential AV systems can play larger roles in the
lives of their owners, as did another recent project
in which the homeowners wanted to anticipate their
own imminent special needs for aging in place.
“One thing I’ve realized is that lighting control
is a big deal when you have limited mobility,” he
explained. “The iPad and iPhone make a huge
difference for people with these kinds of issues.”
Ironically, that same dynamic is also increasing
the number of in-wall touchpads that Masters’
company has been installing.
|Low placement of panels throughout the house makes them fully accessible to Tate Jarvis.
Masters’ experience with a special-needs user
has made him see these kinds of environments as a
larger picture. “It’s made me think about a house
from more of an infrastructure point of view,” he
said. “Once you put it in those terms and put the
idea that your needs are going to change at some
point on the table, you can bring up things like
occupancy sensors, things that might have seemed
out of place otherwise.”
But it’s also made him realize that AV systems
are more than a luxury. “It’s really great to know
you made someone’s life easier and better as a
result of what you did,” he said.
Brothers In Arms
The experience of Todd Jarvis, owner of Sterling
Home Technologies in San Antonio, TX, was
more personal than most. When Hurricane Ike hit
Houston in 2008, a falling tree injured his brother,
Tate, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.
While Tate would be permanently disabled, he built
a house that he designed around his new wheelchairbound
reality, and his brother Todd, who had
founded his AV systems integration business several
years earlier, played a major role in its adaptation.
When Vantage Systems approached Jarvis
about looking for a house in the area to sponsor as a
demonstration site, he suggested his brother’s nearly
finished home. After explaining the situation to a
Vantage executive, the company green-lighted the idea.
Todd said most of what eventually went into the
house was exactly what he’s been installing in other
homes, including lighting control, AV systems, and
security cameras. What he learned, however, is that
there are few yardsticks by which to measure each
individual situation. He began by using Americans
with Disabilities Act (ADA) specifications for
accessibility, such as the height of control panels.
But he and his brother quickly realized that even
that needed to be truly customized.
|The bathroom of Rachelle Friedman’s home is fully fitted for special needs.
“Keypads usually are placed at [standing]
shoulder height, and ADA suggested they be waist
high so that someone in a wheelchair could reach
them,” he explained. “But in many locations my
brother was approaching the touchpanel sideways.
When the touchpanel was that low, his elbow would
hit the wall when he tried to use the panel. So I let
him roll up to the wall and just point in a way that
was comfortable, and that’s how we knew where to
position to the panels,” which turned out to be about
six inches higher than the ADA recommendations.
But, Jarvis points out, if you have the ability to let the
user determine the height that’s most comfortable for
them, by all means do it. “Because those touchpanels
are in the wall and not easily moved after that.”
Not all the touchpanels are fixed. Jarvis makes
good use of several iPads to remotely control the
Vantage automation system. It’s particularly useful
for changing the HVAC settings in the middle of
the night and the water temperature of his roll-in
Todd Jarvis said he also made liberal use of
sensors, installing Sonic SPY-4 “curtain” monitors
that turn on local lights at night as his brother moves
through the house. “Most sensors will shoot out
a triangular or funnel-shaped pattern to look for
motion; these are more like a curtain,” he explained.
“They activate only when you pass directly in front
of them and not when you walk by just in the
vicinity.” These are also used in a room off the side
of the shower that allows Tate to wheel in, switch
to a second chair, and leave the one he showered in
to be blown dry by an exhaust fan that the sensor
activates. A more serious application is the sensor
located deep inside a closet, at the rear of which is
Tate’s gun safe. An alarm will alert him if any of his
children happen to venture that far into the closet.
Todd Jarvis said that working on his brother’s
home has made him more aware of certain things,
such as how much more important an iPad or
other tablet used for control is to someone with
limited mobility. One thing that it’s changed about
his work pattern is that he now usually installs
automatic lights at critical points inside the house,
like the edge of stairways, for almost all of his clients
regardless of their condition or age. “It is all about
how to make a house live around you, not the other
way around,” he said.
Dan Daley is a freelance writer in Nashville, TN.