Life with MS

MS-TECH 101: Smart Home Technology

By Joanne Fortunato

In today’s world of technology, you can easily control things in your home – such as lights, thermostats, and appliances – with your voice or a click on your phone or tablet. Smart home technology is a great way to customize your home that can make living with MS safer and more comfortable.
Aside from the cool, futuristic, Jetsons factor, smart devices are very practical and can be especially useful for someone with a disability. For example, being able to turn on the lights before you enter a room, or before you even enter your house, can make your home much safer. When you are out of the house, the ability to monitor a home security system from your smart phone can provide an extra layer of safety to everyone. If mobility is a problem, being able to control thermostats, and other similar everyday tasks, without having to move around the house, can make things much more manageable. The best part is that many of these options are affordable, easy to use, and do not require subscription services.
There are many big technology companies that are competing for a piece of the smart home market. Generally, smart home devices can be controlled with their own apps on Apple or Android devices. However, several large companies are working to create all-in-one solutions. Two major players are Apple with HomeKit and Amazon with the Echo.
HomeKit is Apple's digital framework for home automation. HomeKit is already built into the operating system of  Apple devices, such an iPads and iPhones. So, you can then use a single app, or use Siri voice commands, from your phone to control all of your smart home devices. Echo is a standalone device from Amazon that offers a similar framework. Using voice commands from “Alexa,” you can also control many devices.
Technology companies are designing new home automation devices for both platforms. These devices can be expensive, so you want to make sure they are compatible with your chosen platform. Even if you are already invested in Apple, Echo might still be worth investigating. Companies such as Samsung and Phillips make devices compatible with both platforms, and the list is growing.
The best way to enter the smart home market is to buy a smart home starter kit. For $100 – $300, you can get a kit that will come with the basics to get started. Buying a kit is cheaper than buying devices individually and eliminates compatibility issues. For a list of kit options go to and search for “smart home starter kits.” Some kits require you to be more tech savvy than others, so you want to make sure that the kit you choose is easy to setup and use. It should be easy to add additional devices to the kit. Check out what other products are available.
If a starter kit is a bigger investment of time and money than you are ready for, it makes sense to purchase an off-the-shelf smart plug. Plug the smart plug into any outlet, then plug in whatever you want to control, such as a lamp. Smart plugs offer limited control, such as on/off, but that may be sufficient for your needs. However, one plug will only control one item so it is not cost effective for more than a few things. Many available outlets are less then $50. For a list of outlets, go to and search for “smart plugs”
The smart home market is still in its infancy. Like most technology, this will probably improve fairly quickly. This new technology is very flexible and can easily be set up to meet the needs of someone with a disability. Creative uses of smart home devices can make technology you already own very powerful, and with new innovations, you will discover uses you haven't even dreamed of yet.