The Smart Apartment: CRT Bridges the Gap Between Regaining Function and Regaining Quality of Life

April 15, 2013

The Center for Rehabilitation Technology (CRT), a clinical department of Helen Hayes Hospital, is dedicated to enhancing the lives of people with disabilities. The overall goal of the Center is to provide skilled assessments, trial of devices/software, and training on chosen equipment to anyone with a disability who could benefit from assistive technology. “Assistive Technology Devices” are items or pieces of equipment used to maintain or improve the functional capability of a person with a disability.

CRT’s multidisciplinary team specializes in the application of technology to assist and increase the independence of people with physical disabilities. The Center’s objectives are to “promote an integrated approach to technology service delivery, educate consumers regarding the benefits and availably of assistive technology and to foster technology transfer and information exchange.” Since is inception, in 1987, the Center has provided services to all age groups in the areas of Seating and Wheeled Mobility, Augmentative Communication, Computer Access and Assistive Devices of Daily Living.

Over the last two years, the Center for Rehabilitation Technology has been exploring & working very hard to create a unique new venture- the Hospital’s “Smart Apartment”. We are beyond excited to announce that this facility is now complete and soon to be ready for use.

The Smart Apartment, located within the Hospital, is a complete, one bedroom living environment that has been filled with the latest technology designed to make everyday living accessible to people with disabilities. The goal of this space is to show people how they can make their own living environment more friendly to individuals with disabilities, while also showing how a severely disabled person could modify their home so that they could be more fully independent. To accomplish this, the latest technology in home automation was explored and integrated with simple adaptations and various assistive technology devices.

Overall universal design was used throughout the space for easy accessibility. Things such as altered door handles and draw pulls are easy solutions that can be placed in a home with minimal cost. For someone who finds the simpler modifications are insufficient, there is also an integrated apartment-wide voice recognition system. This system, “HAL” – for Home Automated Living” allows for automatic control of window shades, lighting, opening the front door, home security, and control of virtually every electronic device in the home. HAL will even store a grocery list and play music upon request. Control of the apartment is accomplished through basic commercial products such as an iPhone, to specialized equipment with a dynamic range of cost and sophistication.

What truly makes the Helen Hayes Hospital Smart Apartment unique, though, is the way multiple systems have been linked together to show the full spectrum of ways to access a home. There is a system to operate the same home features using nothing but eye movement, or head movement. If a person is only able to move one finger, there is a system that gives them access to their home using a finger switch. The therapists in the CRT have been able to customize remote controls to make devices that previously were not accessible, work well for people with disabilities. This level of customization cannot be found in any other center around the county.

The sky is the limit to what can be accomplished with imagination, drive to succeed, and a little assistance from professionals who truly understand what “hands-free” really means.

-Debra Zeitlin M.A., CCC, ATP
Director/Center For Rehabilitation Technology