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Voice Recognition and Switch Controlled Environmental Control Units for Quadriplegics and Physically Disabled
What is an Environmental Control Unit for a Quadriplegic or Physically Disabled
Before I go into what a environmental control unit
is, I want to put out a few thoughts:
- You need to know up front that environmental
control units can be expensive. A typical fully functional ECU with
installation and training will start at around $10,000. It can be
much more. You also have to consider maintenance costs such as
microphone replacement. Your environmental control unit is going to
need repair. Either the parts of the system that are mounted on your
wheelchair are going to get snagged on something or your nursing assistant
is going to be too rough on things and break a wire. Something will
happen that will need to be replaced.
- Forget what you see in the movies. You are
not going to be able to talk out loud in any room in your house, saying
whatever you want to some invisible smart home computer with its own
personality who will be able to correctly interpret, understand, and
perform any task you want. Please, please, please wipe that
image from your brain. It just doesn't exist.
- Environmental control units require a lot of
work on your part. Yes, you have to work to make the
experience successful. You have to learn how to talk to the unit,
you have to learn all the commands, you have to learn the command menus
and submenus, and you have to know how to handle the equipment and more
importantly how to tell your assistants how to handle the equipment.
An environmental control unit (ECU) is a piece of
assistive technology that allows a person who is physically disabled to
control their living environment. Since a person with a physical
disability cannot always pick up the telephone receiver, flick on the light
switch, or press the keys on the remote control, an environmental control
unit is the technological bridge that allows that to happen. Each particular
environmental control unit has its
own features but the typical environmental control
unit allows the person who is physically disabled the ability to independently control such things as:
- operate their hospital bed
- turn on/off lights and small appliances
- answer and make telephone calls
- control the TV, stereo, DVD player, etc.
- open doors
- control the heating and air conditioning
Learn about wheelchair accessible vans,
conversion minivans and vehicles for transporting your wheelchair
about Wheelchair Van - Accessible Full Size Vans
Learn about Wheelchair
Van - Accessible Conversion Minivans
Learn about Riding in your wheelchair while in a car
Learn about Vehicle Options for transporting your wheelchair or scooter
about Driving with hand controls
Their are two basic methods of controlling an
environmental control unit:
- switch control - the user activates an
accessible switch to control the environmental control unit. This is
done through menu scanning, the menu items are presented to the physically
disabled user one at a time and the user times his selection to when the
feature he/she wants is presented. There can be submenus as well to
allow more features specific to a particular menu item. The menus
are presented either visually on a screen or through a speaker so the user
can hear the choice. The first time the user activates the
accessible switch, the unit will scan through the available choices in
menu format such as "lights, television, telephone, ..." When the
user sees on the display screen or hears the menu choice, the switch is
activated again to cause the environmental control unit to perform that
action or in turn present another menu of choices to the user.
Switch control is by far much more reliable than voice control. The
main problem with switch control is that the menus are presented one at a
time, making the process of picking the action you want slow.
However switch control is a much more reliable control method.
- voice control - the user speaks the commands to
the environmental control unit " Turn on bedroom light." Voice is a
much faster method of controlling an environmental control unit but of
course has the negative issues inherent in voice recognition (misunderstood
commands, microphone required to be mounted near user's face, etc.)
Each manufacturer typically has models available for switch, voice, or
switch and voice control. The advantage to a unit that does both
is that a user can use the faster voice recognition method on most days but
when the person is sick or their voice changes throughout the day, the
switch can be used.
How does an environmental control unit allow a Quadriplegic or
Physically Disabled Person to control their environment?
An environmental control unit allows the disabled person to control
their environment from a single centralized control station, equivalent to
a master remote control. The disabled person can either use their
voice or access a single accessible switch to issue commands to
environmental control unit. The environmental control unit processes
the commands and in turn sends out the control signals to the
appropriate device (TV, bed, telephone, etc.) All environmental
control units consist of a base station that can be a desktop computer running
special software or a custom control box housing electronic circuit boards. The base
station is usually mounted in the bedroom on a shelf, night stand, or
chest of drawers. It's best to locate it out of the way so that
daily cleaning or physical movement by staff do not interfere with it.
Occasionally the base station is located in the bedroom.
On some systems, separate from the base station is a wireless system
mounted on the wheelchair which gives the person access to the
environmental control unit while they are up in the chair. So the
person has access to the environmental control unit while in bed or while
in the wheelchair. The base station does not move. While in
the wheelchair the person will speak into a microphone mounting on the
wheelchair and the voice is transmitted wirelessly back to the base
Some environmental control units have to be moved to wherever the
person using it is located. There is no wireless remote accessory.
So if they are in bed using the environmental control unit and get up into
their wheelchair, the environmental control unit has to be moved so that
it is physically mounted on the wheelchair. Obviously this can be a
pain and can lead to damage from the back and forth moving. Also the
environmental control unit is physically located on the wheelchair so if
it is bumped into walls, the environmental control unit can be damaged.
Some users who have their environmental control unit mounted on their
wheelchair simply place the chair close enough to the bed so that they can
operate their chair mounted system from bed.
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