Latest tech gadgets help people with disabilities live independently

Amazon Echo on dark background

Certain disabilities can make daily tasks such as turning light switches on and off, talking on the phone or adjusting a thermostat difficult or impossible. For many years, occupational therapists have used environmental control units (ECUs) and assistive technology (AT) to help people manage their disabilities and become more independent. Until recently, this technology has been extremely expensive.

But thanks to advances in technology over the last decade, items that once helped people with disabilities are becoming more affordable as “cool” or “high tech” gear for your home. Examples include Amazon’s Alexa, Verizon’s Gizmo watch, and the Ring Video Doorbell.

Amazon’s Echo is a portable device that uses voice recognition.  You can ask Alexa, the Echo’s witty, charming female voice, to turn lights off and on, play music, answer questions, make phone calls, and order groceries.

Verizon’s Gizmo watch is an invention that, a few years ago, looked like it could be in an episode of Star Trek.  It’s a simple tool that can store 10 contacts, call 911, serve as a tracking device and measure physical activity. If you’re caring for a parent with mild cognitive impairments, you can use the corresponding phone app to track the person’s movements. Less walking may mean a fall, an illness or the progression of a disease.

The TV show Shark Tank turned down the Ring Video Doorbell but it can help people who have a hard time walking. You can see who is at the door without having to rush and risk falling. It also has a function to allow you to lock and unlock your door remotely.

All of these items are simple, yet sophisticated, pieces of equipment that were once too expensive for many people. You can now buy a device that used to cost more than $3,000 for less than $150.

Because ECUs and AT are now more readily available, occupational therapists can help people live more independently, all with a click of a button.


Erica Jones, OTR/L, CLT, is an occupational therapist with Anne Arundel Medical Group (AAMG) Physical Therapy. You can reach her office at 443-481-1140 or you can request an appointment online.

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