United Ability and Smart Solutions team up to open doors and enrich lives for people with disabilities

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Kevin Braswell, Daniel Creech and Alyssa Scharf at United Ability’s LincPoint . Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

Opening doors brings joy to United Ability’s Daniel Creech.

Each day, at the front desk of LINCPoint, home of United Ability’s Adult Day Program for Adults with disabilities, Daniel now opens doors and welcomes co-workers and visitors alike to the bustling enrichment center that serves daily hundreds of people.

Using home automation software developed by Birmingham-based technology start-up Smart Solutions, eye tracking hardware, and speech generation software by Tobii Dynavox, Daniel, who has cerebral palsy, and cannot speak, is able to not only open the doors at LINCPoint, but through his speech generation communication device, communicate with visitors, saying hello or reminding them to sign in.

It is an important job and Daniel loves it!

Light Bulb Moment

Kevin Braswell, CEO of Smart Solutions, knows what it is like to be unable to open a door, turn on a light, or control a thermostat.

When he was in the 4th grade, Kevin had a cerebral hemorrhage leading to temporary paralysis. While recovering, he vividly remembers asking his mother to do simple things we all take for granted, even changing the channel on a television.

About 14 years ago, he started Smart Solutions which at the time was an audio/video and home automation company specializing in high-end custom installations for residential customers.

Near tragedy struck Kevin again, when in 2009 he had another cerebral hemorrhage. While going through the recovery process yet again, Kevin had what he describes as a “light bulb” moment.

In the time since he was a 4th grader, home automation technology has improved dramatically. However, it was not designed and geared to people with disabilities.

He proposed to change that whole dynamic by asking the following question.

“Why can’t we re-purpose commercially available home automation technology that our company had been working on for years, customize the software, and program it in such a way, that children and adults with disabilities could benefit?”

With that idea – Smart Solutions has been able to come up with solutions to help people with disabilities better control their environment and to support family members and caregivers.

“I’m fortunate to have made a full recovery, but there are people who’ve had conditions such as mine who haven’t made a full recovery. Our goal is to help those people. Persons with disabilities are extremely underserved and I felt we could do the “greater good with these empowering technologies,” said Braswell.

Working with United Ability

Once Kevin’s health recovered, he started transforming Smart Solutions.

About 2 ½ years ago, Smart Solutions had a breakthrough when the Veterans Administration provided seed grants for businesses to develop new technologies that help serve persons with disabilities. Their program was geared toward veterans. If a service member has a service-related injury, they are awarded funds to retrofit their home, including such changes as wider doorways and improved turning radius in bathrooms. However, there are also funds set aside to include technology to make it easier for them to integrate back into their home.

Smart Solutions was awarded a grant and went to work, teaming up with United Ability, who helps beta test their products.

How Smart Solutions products work and why it important

Many products Smart Solutions uses are similar to commercially available products such as the Nest thermostat. Unfortunately, many people with disabilities or special needs are unable to use these popular items.

That is where Smart Solutions comes in. They created their own apps that are designed for accessibility and provide persons with disabilities life-changing independence. Braswell stated “For example, the apps for off the shelf products often require scrolling which is tough for someone with a disability to use. This leads to frustration and people abandon products not designed with accessibility in mind. The population we serve deserves a better experience.”

Smart Solutions has set out to disrupt the long-term care model. “With technology supports, we can delay nursing home care and keep people in the community”, Braswell says. “There are many cases where, with a well thought out care plan, we can provide a better solution than institutional based care.”

“We are partnering with leading device manufacturers such as power wheelchair and speech generation device companies that share our vision. There is a very high interest in incorporating our system into their products.” Braswell states. Promoting independence and inclusion is Smart Solutions top priority. “At the end of the day, it’s about giving people a sense of dignity and pride,” Braswell says.

“This technology is groundbreaking,” stated Becky Adams, Speech-Language Pathologist at United Ability.

“For Daniel, and others, who live in apartments and their own homes, some are fortunate that they have staff that can help them. But, many of our adults, in the fall, when the clocks are moved back and the sun sets at 5:00 PM, have to sit and wait in the dark until someone gets there. It seems like a really simple thing, but for many of our people who are living semi-independent, it would mean a lot to them. Turn on the lights. Turn on their TV. Turn the heat on. Lock their doors.”

Teaching Ability

United Ability’s Daniel Creech. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

The technology has improved by leaps and bounds. Previously, before these new products came on the market, Daniel had to use a helmet and a chin strap with a PVC pipe pointer to type on his laptop and drive his chair. Today he uses his eyes to speak, open doors and a simple head array to drive his chair, no need for a helmet and a bulky PVC pipe.

Alyssa Scharf, a Speech-Language Pathologist and Clinical Fellow at United Ability added, “We can equip our people to advocate for themselves, but this takes it to the next level and beyond. They can take the next step and do things for themselves. We always want to teach advocacy, but gosh, if we can teach ability too, that’s a new world with the people we work with.”

Opening Doors

And that brings us back to opening doors. Through this technology, Daniel has his dream job. He opens doors at LINCPoint using a system designed by Smart Solutions. Welcomes everyone, and more importantly, he has become the first face many visitors see at United Ability.

Next up for Daniel, opening his own doors.

“One day I hope I can open the doors at home,” Daniel declared through his communication device.

“Absolutely!” answered Kevin Braswell.

Through the partnership between Smart Solutions and United Ability, Daniel will.

To learn more about Smart Solutions, their website is www.mysmartsolutions.com.

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Author: Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.