Shopping Cheatsheet

We wrote about this in Inventability at length and it keeps coming up over and over, so, here are our eight things to consider when putting together a whole house/life/system of assistive technology. Cheatsheet style.

Open Tech

Choose Open Source and scriptable technology so that you can make things work for your unusual/niche case, and so that you can share those solutions with others so disabled people don’t have to keep re-inventing the wheel.

No Hubs!

Anything with a hub (like Philips Hue, SmartThings etc) should be avoided. They are really cool and fun, but if you really do need to automate your entire life and it’s not just a toy/hobby thing then you will either end up with about 50 hubs in a massive spaghetti hell OR you will get locked into one company/brand/ecosystem and be vulnerable to/ dependent upon that company. Don’t get yourself into either of those positions. Reject hubs.

Diversify

Just to hammer on this point: don’t get locked into one brand, company, or IoT ecosystem. It might seem easier, but if the company goes bust you are totally screwed. This happens in mainstream tech as well as specialist disability tech and you must protect yourself by always spreading your buy through multiple companies, and always looking for the points of failure in your system and finding backups for them.

Low Cost

Technology moves quickly and funding streams for disabled people are capricious and unreliable. Look for low cost kit that you could replace yourself if necessary. Don’t let yourself get stuck with obsolete tech you can’t sell and can’t afford to repair or replace.

Mainstream

To do this, try to find mainstream products to meet your needs. Look to the largest market possible. Look for places where able bodied people are without the use of their hands for useful stuff - driving a car, riding a bike, or climbing a mountain? You’ll find a wealth of assistive technology for pennies.

It is not the case that spending more ensures a better product, especially in disability land. There are huge markups on products you can get just as easily elsewhere. Consider things like camera clamps. They are useful for holding cameras, but also mobile phones, buttons, tablets, and more. You can be charged hundreds of pounds for them in disability shops or you can pick them up for a few quid on Amazon. Do not get stuck in the disability bubble.

Own Your Stuff

If at all possible, avoid kit that requires an engineer to make any changes. Refuse to go cap in hand to a company or the local council to change a number on your speed dial. Avoid service contracts, especially ones where you can’t switch to a better service as they are the only provider. An example of this is choosing a Roho mattress over a dynamic mattress. (A Roho is unpowered and has no moving parts and can be repaired with a bike kit if necessary.) Another example is choosing a mainstream smart-doorbell over a Possum/GEWA system.

One Time Cost

This is a similar but subtly different point. Again, you can’t rely on funding being available to you long term, so when you have funding, get as much one-time cost, on-going benefit adaptations as you can. A great example of this is buying brass handles for all your cupboards and doors instead of spending the same amount on consumables like cleaning products or care workers.

Simplest Form Factor

Buy the simplest product you can find to meet your need. The Tassimo is a great example of this principle. The Roho is another facet of the same idea. Remember that almost everything you own you will have to talk someone else into operating for you, at least at first, so the simpler and easier you can make the process, the more likely it is to get done.