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Smart Home Provides Independence For People Living With Disabilities

Smart Living Home resident Jim Fox can use his smart fridge to order groceries, find recipes and check food expiration dates.
Courtesy of LADD
Smart Living Home resident Jim Fox can use his smart fridge to order groceries, find recipes and check food expiration dates.

Four roommates are settling into their new home in Anderson Township and are excited about the prospect of having a greater level of autonomy. The "smart home" is a pilot in LADD's new Smart Living "Forever, Home" initiative to give people living with disabilities the chance to live independently while still receiving necessary supports and services.

In a video produced by LADD, a non-profit with a mission of empowering adults with developmental disabilities, the first four people to try out the smart home are seen exploring its features and talking about how excited they are.

"I really like this house because it's big and has a lot of room," says Dan Jones, noting there's lots of room to have friends over.

"This is unbelievable, I love it," says Matt Chaffin as he sees the space for the first time. "I think it will be great because I will get to know the guys that I'm living with and be able to be back in my home community."


LADD debuted its first smart home technologies in 2019, but this pilot takes that concept to a much higher level. Every smart technology you can think of is included in this home, from toothbrushes that transmit brushing data to a refrigerator that can track its contents and provide recipes, and sensors that can detect health emergencies.

"It's a pilot that we are undertaking to increase the independence of adults with disabilities in our area and eventually all over by utilizing technology - remote supports that would happen in the house or when people leave the house - and home automation," says Brian Hart, LADD's chief strategy officer.

Residents can get reminders to take medications, scheduling assistance, or request help via video chat from tablets in the home. There are also sensors that detect movements, allowing off-site monitors to determine if help is needed. The pilot includes wearable technologies like smart watches and rings, enabling people to go out into the community and still have access to supports they may need.

You can take a virtual tour of the Smart Living Home here.

These services would usually be provided by a person staying in the home 24/7. Having that person around lowers the resident's independence, and is costly - the cost of an around-the-clock staff member is around $90,000 per individual each year, Hart says - and is limited by staffing levels.

The smart house frees up on-site staff, and off-site staff are able to monitor more people at once, reducing costs. Hart estimates the $90,000 annual cost could drop to less than $1,000 per month.

Take, for example, a person with a seizure disorder that suffers approximately four seizures per year. Currently, Hart explains, that person has someone with them around-the-clock basically just waiting for a seizure to happen. When it does, they provide a five-minute intervention, coaching the person through it and calling 911 if necessary.

"With the different technology that we have in the home through motion and fall sensors and seizure detection technology and wearable sensors, we can provide that same five-minute intervention without having someone standing around physically next to someone waiting for it to happen."

That frees up the staff member, and provides independence to the individual because they can go about their life as they please without having to rely on someone else all the time.

There are cameras, but Hart says policies and procedures are in place to ensure they're only enabled when absolutely necessary. He adds, the people living in the home were consulted about what they're comfortable with, and the idea is to use the least intrusive options that still ensure safety and security.

This home is the first of three in an Anderson Township cluster. Another is expected to open by the end of the year, followed by a third early next year.

Matt Chaffin (L) and Jim Fox (R) sit in the home's sensory room. The chair on the left is a calming chair and has a screen that pulls down if needed.
Credit Courtesy of LADD
Matt Chaffin (L) and Jim Fox (R) sit in the home's sensory room. The chair on the left is a calming chair and has a screen that pulls down if needed.

LADD also believes these could be the first homes in the nation that utilize smart technologies to increase independence to such a high level. Hart says they consulted with similar agencies across the country, and none they spoke with are doing what they're trying here.

"This is what we are considering our moonshot, or our model of what we can do," Hart says. "We took all of the technology that we could think of, we threw it together in this home, and we're going to test and find what works, what doesn't, and how to take it to all the other homes we have."

LADD is partnering with Xavier to study how it goes. The university's School of Occupational Therapy is doing a research study to see how the technology works, what things work or don't work, and how everything is configured. Cinnova, a local tech company, is helping LADD connect all the technologies so they work together and "talk" to each other to provide one cohesive picture.

Part of the pilot includes finding ways to predict when an incident might occur. Hart says their research shows not much has been done on predicting when something might happen, rather agencies are mostly just using technology to monitor people. LADD has sensors all over the home on doors, floors, etc. Hart says they can use that data not just to know when someone gets out of bed in the middle of the night, for example, but to predict if an intervention might be needed.

Ultimately, though, it's about giving people their independence. Hart offers this anecdote to drive home that point.

"If somebody gets up (at night) to go to the bathroom and then comes back to bed, the system knows what's going on ... and there's no intervention actually needed. ... You don't have to wake that person back up and make sure everything's OK, they can just go about living their lives. It's just like me and you, if I get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, I don't also have someone check in to say 'Hey, how'd that go in the bathroom? Everything OK? Cool, go back to bed.' Just let the person go to the bathroom and go back to bed.

"That's really what's changing (things) - that idea that we can really give someone a lot more independence to just live in their home. (And) any time we can reduce that staff intervention, it allows for us to reduce a lot of the costs that we have and staff that we need."

Hart says that doesn't mean staff will be cut, rather redeployed to offer targeted caregiving services.

Drew Jones, Daniel Jones, Matt Chaffin and Jim Shannon moved into their new Smart Living pilot home in September.
Credit Courtesy of LADD
Drew Jones, Daniel Jones, Matt Chaffin and Jim Shannon moved into their new Smart Living pilot home in September.

If successful, the home could be a game changer in that it could allow more people to receive services, and allow people who don't qualify for financial assistance to afford services. LADD notes Ohio has a $4 billion budget (based on levy dollars, fiscal budgets and Medicaid funds), and yet there are still people who need services but can't get them.

"There are people that will never qualify for Medicaid services and really can't afford to privately pay $90,000 to $100,000 a year for these services, so we're also looking to develop a model where, privately, people could pay for these services as well."

Copyright 2021 91.7 WVXU. To see more, visit 91.7 WVXU.

Tana Weingartner earned a bachelor's degree in communication from the University of Cincinnati and a master's degree in mass communication from Miami University. Most recently, she served as news and public affairs producer with WMUB-FM. Ms. Weingartner has earned numerous awards for her reporting, including several Best Reporter awards from the Associated Press and the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and a regional Murrow Award. She served on the Ohio Associated Press Broadcasters Board of Directors from 2007 - 2009.