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Smart Home Devices for People With Disabilities & Mobility Needs

Sep 01, 2023

The D-Link DCH-S161, our pick for detecting water leaks, and the Google Nest Cam Outdoor, our pick for outdoor cameras, have been discontinued. We’re in the process of testing new models.

Smart-home devices can sometimes feel almost magical. They allow you to turn on lights without having to touch a switch, answer the front door from your bedroom (or a hotel room), and tweak your thermostat with a simple voice command. For many people, those capabilities are a convenience or a luxury. But for those who live with accessibility challenges, smart-home technology can be a powerful enabler, one that allows them to live a more independent and empowered life. Todd Stabelfeldt, CEO of C4 Database Management, is a quadriplegic and an avid smart-home user. As he puts it, "Convenience for you is independence for me."

Stabelfeldt is one of 61 million US adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who live with what's classified as a "disability"—which the CDC often defines as "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities." He's also one of the growing number of people who are tapping into smart-home technology to make it possible or easier to accomplish everyday tasks, be it turning on lights, opening doors, or turning on the TV. (Stabelfeldt calls his decked-out smart home "The Quadthedral.")

It's impossible, of course, to fully cover solutions for every need. But based on years of researching and testing smart-home products, we’ve compiled a list of what we think are the products that can best help people—and potentially their loved ones and caretakers—with many types of accessibility needs. (For a better understanding, please read Who this is for.)

To benefit from smart-home technology, you don't have to go all in on a pricey, highly complex home that's packed to the gills with technology. "Start small," said Stabelfeldt, who recommends beginning with something as simple as a $10 to $15 smart plug, which can automate any electrical device. "Go get an app, get a little modular plug, and just start."

I am a senior staff writer at Wirecutter who covers smart-home gear, which I’ve been testing and writing about for a number of major publications for over 15 years. For this guide, which entails using smart-home tech in a number of specialized ways, I reached out to organizations and experts specializing in accessibility as it relates to smart-home technology, as well as to actual users. All of them helped us to narrow down the categories of devices that are covered in this guide. They include:

This guide is for the diverse community of tens of millions of people living with what the CDC defines as a "disability," which can be anything from activity limitations to loss of vision to struggles with self-care. Although accessibility needs vary by a number of factors, including age and disability types, internet-connected smart-home devices—anything from smart plugs, cameras, sensors, and smoke alarms to voice-activated speakers, and so on—can make everyday life more convenient, safer, and even more social. Ultimately, though, the smart home excels at helping people with disabilities live a more independent lifestyle.

"Let's say you’re a double amputee and you go to bed and remember you forgot to turn off the kitchen light," said Elizabeth Fields, former chief operating officer for the Gary Sinise Foundation. "For most of us, it's just an inconvenience. But if you’re a double amputee, you’re either going to have to put your prosthetics back on or get in your wheelchair. And that's not easy to do. But if you have an iPad that has integrated software to just turn off that kitchen light? It's a little thing, but it's so impactful."

Smart-home devices send notifications whenever they are activated, can provide remote-access control, and integrate with other devices so they can be partly or even fully controlled hands-free. All smart devices require setup using a smartphone and an app, but the process is usually simple. And it doesn't typically matter if you use an Apple or Android phone—most devices work using either. However, there are minimum requirements, and these may restrict how old your device or its software can be. (Among the devices in this guide, a few are compatible with devices running software as old as iOS 9.0 or Android 4.0; others require iOS 13.2 or Android 8.0.) Also, some users will need assistance setting up or maintaining their smart devices. Currently there is no national organization we know of that can provide those types of services, though there are options locally, which we discuss in the Installation and maintenance section.

Unfortunately, there's also no one-size-fits-all smart-home solution. Instead, the types of devices you should select will depend on your specific needs. That may be as basic as having lights that turn on and off based on a daily schedule. It could be as comprehensive as having a fully tricked-out home with smart sensors, security devices, and fully automated devices. Or it may be something in between.

As we learned while reporting this guide, for some people, a smart home can actually help reduce the cost of in-home care, which can cost up to many thousands of dollars per month, according to Genworth's 2020 Cost of Care Survey. Some of these expenses may be covered by insurance. But Brian Hart, chief strategy officer for LADD, a Cincinnati-area nonprofit that works with adults who have developmental disabilities, said there's inherent inefficiency in a lot of home care. "Sometimes caregivers are just kind of hanging out, waiting for things to happen," he said. "Through technology, we can replace that. We still provide any emergency services someone would need: A staff member virtually is a button-push away if someone needs an in-person intervention."

The decision to use smart technology necessarily raises security and privacy concerns. At Wirecutter we vet all of our product and service picks to ensure they abide by standard safety practices, and we continue to monitor them over time to keep abreast of updates and any privacy or security concerns that may arise. In our experience, whatever sacrifices to privacy you may incur by using the picks we recommend, we believe the real-world benefits outweigh any likely risks. "Sure, I’ve got four HomePods throughout a 1,000-square-foot home," said Ian Mackay, founder and executive director of Ian's Ride, smart-home user, quadriplegic, and consultant. "But the value of independence that it provides greatly outweighs any concerns I have about privacy or security."

We spent months researching this guide, poring over product roundups, news articles, and academic studies. We also spoke with manufacturers and experts. And, most importantly, we spoke with actual users who helped us curate a list of the types of smart-home devices that people with accessibility needs are currently living with, what has been well received, and what has been most useful (as well as what hasn't). We’ve broken down this list into categories to make it easier to digest. However, for each section, we looked for items that included the following:

Wirecutter takes security and privacy issues seriously and, as much as possible, investigates how the companies whose products we recommend deal with customer data. As part of our vetting process, we research all of the security and data-privacy practices behind our picks. We also reach out to all of the companies that produce our top picks and ask them to respond to an extensive questionnaire to confirm issues that we think should be of primary concern for any potential buyer. Some of those questions include: Is two-factor authentication available and/or required? Is user data encrypted in the cloud? Can video or audio (when available) be accessed without permission by anyone besides the owner? Do you share data with third parties?

Individual results have been published in each of our full product guides, which are linked in each section below. Wirecutter also long-term tests all of its picks, which includes keeping track of app, firmware, and policy updates, as well as of hardware and software incidents. Should any privacy or security issues be found with any of our selected products, we’ll report that here and, if necessary, update or alter our recommendations.

Smart-home devices can make it easier for you to help an older loved one age safely and securely in their own home.

You don't always need to carry a smartphone to control smart-home devices. Many allow for voice control, so you can call out to turn on lights and check out camera feeds on a screen. Smart speakers, smart displays, and TV streamers enable this type of control. But they can also act as a hub, combining products from different manufacturers. So you might, for instance, have a security camera trigger a device like a smart plug or have a single voice command turn off all the smart lighting in your house at night.

Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri (via Apple HomeKit) make it easy to control smart-home devices using voice commands. They also provide instant access to useful information like the weather and news, as well as a bevy of music and podcast options. Smart speakers, such as an Amazon Echo, Apple HomePod Mini, or Google Home, are primarily controlled using your voice.

Smart displays are a subcategory of smart speakers, and they’re voice-controlled too. But smart displays also include a touchscreen that displays any information you call up, and they allow users to access functions with a touch or swipe. Multiple people we interviewed mentioned the value in smart screens: They’re larger than a smartphone, and they include a camera, which can be used not only to make face-to-face calls but also to identify objects, using features like Alexa's Show and Tell or the Be My Eyes app (iOS or Android version).

All of these digital assistants can be configured to run what are called Routines, Scenes, and Shortcuts (commands to one or more devices or tasks at once). Beatrice Geoffrin, director of Alexa Trust and head of the Alexa for Everyone team at Amazon, said Routines are especially helpful for those with accessibility needs. "For example, a customer with limited mobility could create a ‘Good Morning’ Routine, where Alexa wishes them good morning, turns on the lights, sets the thermostat, and tells them the weather for the day, all in a single request."

This display and speaker allows users to watch video and chat face-to-face with friends, family, and caregivers. It also has built-in Alexa functionality, as well as a camera that can follow and frame the user.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $130.

Compatible with: Amazon Alexa

Why it's a pick: Any Alexa speaker will control smart-home devices just fine, but we like the Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen) because it combines Amazon's voice-controlled smart speaker with a built-in screen and several useful features that other smart displays lack. There's a clever 13-megapixel camera that automatically pans, zooms, and frames, so you’re always centered in the picture. The screen is an excellent tool for consuming media and news, but it also allows users to stay in touch with friends, family, and caregivers via Alexa Calling and Zoom. It also has a "drop-in" two-way video-chat feature, for instant conversation, that works just like a two-way intercom. (If only one party has an Alexa device, that's okay: Video chats also work with the Alexa app on any smartphone.) For more on Alexa, read What Is Alexa (and What's the Best Alexa Speaker)?.

How it helps: Alexa can be used to control smart-home devices, as well as to schedule Reminders about appointments and medication doses, watch videos about cooking, or view and hear closed captioning (when available). It also includes the Show and Tell feature, which helps blind and low-vision users identify pantry items simply by holding them up to the Echo Show's camera and asking, "Alexa, what am I holding?" Lucy Greco, accessibility evangelist at UC Berkeley and a smart-home tester who has been blind since birth, said, "Show and Tell doesn't exist on any other devices. So I had to have one."

Another option to consider: People with non-standard speech may have problems using Alexa (or any voice assistant), so it may not be the ideal option for everyone. Amazon is working to evolve the platform, but in the interim, consider adding VoiceITT, an iOS app for iPhones and iPads that can learn and recognize your speech patterns and can convey messages both onscreen and aloud. (We have not tested this app, but we know it's also integrated with Alexa's API, so you can deliver voice commands such as "Alexa, turn off the lights" through the app and have Alexa react accordingly. )

This tablet has a large screen, includes Siri voice control, and is portable enough to take anywhere in the house. And this device makes it easy to engage in video and audio calls with family, friends, and caregivers.

Compatible with: Apple HomeKit

Why it's a pick: The Apple iPad (8th generation, 32 GB) has a large, easy-to-use touchscreen, is portable, and includes the Siri digital assistant. You can ask Siri to play music, announce the weather, and schedule reminders and timers, as well as to control smart devices or trigger Scenes and Automations (another term for Routines). Manual control of devices is generally easier on a tablet than on a smartphone because the app icons are big, so they’re easier to manipulate and see. Because the iPad is so portable, you can take it from the bedroom to the kitchen to the living room and use it for calls with family, friends, telemedicine services, and more (unlike with a dedicated smart display, which has a power cord and sits in a fixed location).

How it helps: The Apple iPad has access to all of the same accessibility features as the Apple iPhone. It also includes access to Apple's Home app and HomeKit, so you can control smart-home devices and combine some of their functions with one command. For instance, you can say "Siri, turn on the living room" to power several lights simultaneously. And those lights can be combined with smart plugs, cameras, and other smart devices, as long as they support Apple HomeKit. If you have speech issues, you can use Switch Control and the VoiceITT app mentioned above, or just use the iPad to access the individual apps for all of the devices mentioned elsewhere in this guide.

A smart speaker is just like a smart display—without the actual screen. It's a web-connected speaker you control using voice commands to play news, music, podcasts, and other streaming audio content. If you don't need or won't use the extra features a display offers (such as video calling or onscreen controls), smart speakers are just as functional, and they’re less expensive. They also enable you to control many smart devices with simple commands: "Alexa, turn on the lights." And using a smart speaker's app, you can set up Routines and Scenes, which are preset groups of actions linked to one or more devices at the same time.

Amazon's flagship speaker makes it easy to play music, order pizza, get answers to questions, or control popular smart-home devices—among 10,000-plus other things.

Compatible with: Amazon Alexa

Why it's a pick: The Amazon Echo (4th Gen) speaker's sound quality is good enough to fill an average-size room, and the built-in Alexa software (that's the digital assistant you speak to) connects to more products and services than any other smart speaker. This fourth-generation model also has a built-in wireless Zigbee hub, so you can connect directly to Zigbee devices (like Philips Hue bulbs) without needing to install another hub. For more on Alexa, read What Is Alexa (and What's the Best Alexa Speaker)?.

How it helps: Alexa can respond to commands for music, weather, trivia answers, and more. It can also connect to thousands of smart-home devices, so you can easily access them through the sound of your voice or connect them to other smart-home devices. But Howard A. Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), noted that for members of the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, a significant obstacle to using smart speakers is that they rely almost solely on auditory alerts or verbal communication. One workaround may be to create Alexa Routines, which can trigger devices from multiple manufacturers with one command. For instance, you might make it so that every time someone rings your Arlo Video Doorbell, a Philips Hue smart bulb in your living room turns green to alert you.

If you’re looking to add multiple Alexa speakers around the house (this also acts as a great intercom, using Alexa's Drop In feature), you may want to consider the smaller, cheaper Echo Dot. Suria Nordin, who is a CPA, co-owner of SunKirb Ideas, and a quadriplegic, says an Echo has changed everything for the better in her smart home. "It made it a lot easier because you have one hub to do all of the controls," she said. "Before that, it was individual equipment: an Xbox for TV entertainment, and something else to learn the temperature."

Other options: The HomePod Mini looks similar to an Amazon Echo, but it works with Apple's HomeKit platform and Siri voice commands. In addition to responding to requests for music, weather, and trivia, it also acts as a HomeKit hub (which HomeKit users need in order to access HomeKit devices outside the house; an Apple TV or an iPad also work).

Flipping on lights, turning on a fan, adjusting a thermostat, and even opening and closing a door are common tasks that can become immensely challenging (or just tedious) for those living with a disability. Smart-home technology allows some of those everyday tasks to become, well, everyday for everyone. "Technology done right is a real source of righteous dignity and [provides] some really amazing independence," Stabelfeldt said.

Smart plugs are the easiest, most inexpensive way to automate almost any plug-in appliance or device. Just plug one into any outlet, pair it with a smartphone, and then plug in the device you wish to control, such as a table lamp or fan. Once it's set up, you can remotely turn the device on or off, or put it on a schedule.

You can also configure a smart plug to be controlled by voice commands (via a smartphone or voice-controlled speaker), so people with limited mobility or vision issues can control and check the status of devices like lamps or a TV. When paired with lights, smart plugs even offer a bit of added security: Putting them on a schedule can act as a deterrent to burglars. And if you pair them with a motion sensor to turn on a plugged-in lamp when someone approaches, you won't have to wander down dark hallways.

This plug is compact, reliable, and affordable enough that you could install multiple plugs around your home. It has an easy-to-use app and is compatible with most smart platforms.

Compatible with: Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, IFTTT

Why it's a pick: The Wyze Plug is inexpensive enough that you can reasonably add plugs all over the house if you like. It's easy to control through its iOS and Android apps or via voice commands, when paired with Alexa and Google Assistant devices (but not Apple HomeKit). For more on smart plugs, read our guide to the best plug-in smart outlets.

How it helps: The Wyze Plug is versatile, and it can automate a host of useful devices around the house, including a coffee maker, table lamps, TVs, fans, window air conditioners, and almost any other electric appliance. This allows you to easily turn devices on and off, without having to reach for them or even be in the same room. The Wyze Plug also has advanced features (such as the ability to track how long you’re using devices on a daily and weekly basis), yet it sets up easily and works reliably. So you can set up a lamp, heater, or fan to automatically turn on without much fuss—and be sure it turns off later, too.

Though it's more expensive than the Wyze Plug, the Wemo provides most of the same features and adds support for Apple HomeKit.

May be out of stock

*At the time of publishing, the price was $25.

Compatible with: Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant, IFTTT

Why it's a pick: If you want to integrate a smart plug into an Apple HomeKit system, the Wemo WiFi Smart Plug is the one to get. It supports all three major voice platforms (Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple HomeKit) but typically costs about half the price of most other HomeKit-compatible plugs. (We’re still looking at the even-cheaper Meross and will update this guide, if needed.) The Wemo is one of the smallest smart plugs we’ve tested, making it perfect for fitting behind furniture and in countertop kitchen outlets.

How it helps: As with the Wyze Plug, with the Wemo Plug you can plug nearly any electric device into it and then put it on a schedule, control it with an app, or use voice controls to turn it on or off. The Wemo is currently our favorite HomeKit-enabled plug—in addition to using the Wemo app, you can control it using Apple's Home app and Siri voice control. (It also works with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.) "When I’m in bed at night, if it starts getting too warm, I can't pull that blanket down," said Mackay, who uses Wemo Plugs with his HomeKit setup. "Just to be able to turn on a fan [using a voice command], that's huge."

Smart lighting—in the form of in-wall switches/dimmers and LED bulbs—enables you to put your lights on Schedules, have the lights triggered by movement or other smart devices, or simply turn lights on and off as needed using a smartphone or voice command.

"The ability to say ‘turn on the light’ or ‘what is the state of the lights’ is really an accessibility thing," Greco said. "[As a blind person] I don't know if my lights are on or not. And in the middle of the day, who cares. But at nighttime, my guide dog might care, or the robber coming past the house might think it's okay to break in because I’m in total darkness." Smart lights can also integrate with other smart devices, such as cameras and sensors, so hallway lights, for example, can turn on when motion is detected.

This model is cheaper than most smart bulbs, and it emits bold colors, is easily controllable via app or smart speaker, has useful Scenes (presets of color and dimness), and is widely compatible with other smart devices.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $13.

Compatible with: Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri Shortcuts, Google Assistant, IFTTT, Samsung SmartThings

Why it's a pick: The Philips Wiz Smart Wi-Fi LED Color Bulb is bright enough for reading and other everyday activities, but it also delivers beautiful colors—and it's cheap enough that you can add smart bulbs all over the house. That means you can light up any existing fixture when needed, either using the app, voice control, or by setting schedules so lights go on and off at predetermined times. This bulb (along with its less-expensive white counterpart) also has special effects. And it includes a Vacation Mode, which will turn the bulb on and off to make it look like you’re home when you’re not. For more on smart bulbs, read our guide to the best smart LED light bulbs.

How it helps: One of the reasons we love smart light bulbs is because they turn any lamp or light fixture into a smart light. Also, using something like Alexa Routines, you can quickly and easily create useful Rules—for instance, you can configure one so that every time someone pushes your smart doorbell, a bulb in the living room will turn green. Or if someone walks past cameras in the backyard after a certain hour of the day, a bulb inside or outside will turn red.

This in-wall light switch works with most any electrical system, integrates with a lot of smart-home devices, and offers an easy-to-use keypad for dimming and powering lights manually.

Compatible with: Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant, IFTTT, Ring, Samsung SmartThings, Sonos, and others

Why it's a pick: Smart in-wall light switches, which replace existing light switches, are a great way to incorporate smart lighting because they allow you to use lighting the old-fashioned way—by touching a wall switch—while still offering all the remote-control and automation features of smart lighting. We like the Lutron Caséta Wireless In-Wall Dimmer because it uses the company's own Clear Connect wireless technology, so it doesn't interfere with your home Wi-Fi. (You’ll need to buy and install a Lutron Caséta Smart Bridge. But you can save a few bucks by buying the starter kit, which comes with a remote that can work inside the house without a smartphone.) For more on smart switches, read our guide to the best in-wall smart light switch and dimmer.

How it helps: The Caséta Dimmer has separate buttons for on, off, and dimming, so you don't have to rely on the tactile feel of an on/off switch. Caséta switches are compatible with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri (via Apple HomeKit). So you can use voice commands to check on the status of lights, as well as to call up controls and trigger Scenes (a series of commands that can turn some or all of your lights on to a certain dimming level).

A smart thermostat can reduce energy consumption while making your home more consistently comfortable. But they are especially ideal for those with mobility, dexterity, and vision issues who may have difficulty manipulating a thermostat (or simply don't want to). A smart thermostat can easily be put on a custom schedule. And some models can actually learn your habits and automatically turn on and off, to be optimally comfortable but also efficient (that includes automatically turning on or off when you enter or leave your home). Susan Tachau is CEO of Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Foundation, a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit organization that helps individuals with disabilities acquire assistive technology. Tachau recommends smart thermostats for caretakers and loved ones because she said they allow those people to check in and make adjustments from remote locations, rather than needing to adjust them in person.

Nest's most-advanced smart thermostat is easy to use, and it learns to adjust to your preferred comfort levels.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $250.

Compatible with: Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Samsung SmartThings

Why it's a pick: The Google Nest Learning Thermostat can learn your heating and cooling preferences and adjust temperature settings based on your daily routine and local temperature. That not only keeps things comfortable inside, but it can actually save you money by keeping the heat or AC from blasting when no one is home. This device is also easy to use and install (just make sure your system is compatible). For more information, read our guide to the best smart thermostat.

How it helps: Because this is a learning thermostat, you can train it to adjust its settings automatically—so after the learning period, you’ll no longer have to touch, tap, or call out commands. It also works with Nest Temperature Sensors (small devices you can place in rooms that are either the hottest or coldest, or the ones you spend the most time in), so the Nest knows to base its temperature settings on the temperature in those rooms.

This thermostat has better remote sensors than the Nest, works with more smart-home platforms, and has a built-in speaker so you can talk directly to it via Amazon Alexa.

Compatible with: Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant, IFTTT, Samsung SmartThings

Why it's a pick: It's not as easy to use as the Nest, but the Ecobee SmartThermostat with Voice Control has Alexa built in, so you don't need to purchase a separate smart speaker to give it voice commands. It includes a small speaker, so you can also use it to play music, check the weather, or control other devices. Of course, the Ecobee can also adjust temperature. Unlike the Nest, which sells sensors separately, this setup includes one remote sensor (and supports up to 32), so you can monitor another room, hallway, or other area of the house that's always too hot or too cold.

How it helps: As with the Nest, the Ecobee can be programmed on a schedule or can automatically adjust itself based on sensors that detect when you are around. We like that it has Alexa built in, since it allows you to control any other Alexa-compatible devices by voice, as long as the thermostat is within earshot. But if you don't like the idea of an all-hearing voice assistant, don't worry: Just because the Ecobee has Alexa built in doesn't mean you have to use it; the thermostat also works with Google Assistant, Apple HomeKit, SmartThings, and IFTTT (although some of those platforms require other add-ons, such as a smart speaker).

Natural light can liven up a dark room and heat it at the same time—and window shades let you control how much light or heat you allow in. Smart window shades and blinds are a godsend for anyone who has difficulty or is unable to physically open and close windows. These shades are especially helpful if a dwelling has multiple windows, multiple floors, or windows in hard-to-reach places. Most smart window shades can be manually controlled through an app or voice control; they can also be put on a daily schedule, so shades automatically open every morning and close at dusk (or any other time you prefer).

These quiet, reliable smart shades come with a choice of fabric (including blackout options). And because they’re custom-made, they match any window size and decor.

Compatible with: Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant, IFTTT, Samsung SmartThings, and more

Why it's a pick: Lutron's Serena Shades are easy to set up and control. They’re also the most universal, since they work with every major smart-home platform and pretty much every type of window. Each one is measured to fit and then custom-made, so you can choose the size, color, and fabric. To add in smart features, you’ll need to pair the shades with the Caséta Wireless Smart Bridge, a small device that connects to your router. For more information, read our guide to the best smart window shades and blinds.

How it helps: Serena shades use disposable D-cell batteries (which last two to three years) for power. And they connect to Lutron's app, so you can manually control them using a smartphone and voice control (via Alexa, HomeKit, or Google Assistant), and put them on a schedule. There are no controls on the actual shade, so consider adding a Caséta Pico remote control ($15), which provides phone-free remote control, even during a power outage.

These are the cheapest off-the-shelf smart shade options we’ve found that also work with every major smart-home platform. However, they come in only one color and in fixed sizes.

Compatible with: Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant

Why it's a pick: IKEA's Fyrtur shades make outfitting multiple windows slightly more affordable, at $150 per window ($300-plus cheaper than the Lutron Serena Shades). These shades provide remote control and scheduling via wireless Zigbee technology (so you need to pair them with IKEA's $35 Tradfri hub), and they have a rechargeable battery (which should last about four months). The Fyrtur shades also work with all the major voice-control platforms, but they come in a limited number of sizes, with gray blackout fabric.

How it helps: With its blackout fabric, the Fyrtur can darken a room, using the included remote, the IKEA app, or any major voice-control platform.

For many, a garage is considered a luxury, and a garage-door opener even more so. However, if you have accessibility issues, a smart garage-door controller can ensure that your garage opens and closes, whenever you need it to. A controller can also provide easy access to caregivers and delivery people, without your having to answer the door. These types of devices work with most any modern garage-door opener, providing remote control and status checks via a smartphone app or voice control. Using a smartphone platform, such as Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, or Google Assistant, you can also link a smart garage-door opener with other devices. You might configure it so that when you arrive home, the garage door opens, the smart thermostat adjusts the temperature, and a few smart lights turn on.

The most responsive of all the models we tested, the iQ3 uses geolocation technology (Bluetooth and GPS) to automatically open and close the door.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $60.

Compatible with: Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri Shortcuts, Google Assistant, IFTTT

Why it's a pick: The Tailwind iQ3 Smart Automatic Garage Controller combines a hardwired door sensor and geolocation technology to reliably open and close the door automatically whenever you approach or leave your home. It also works with Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and Apple's Siri through Shortcuts, as well as all sorts of existing garage-door openers (if you have a Chamberlain, LiftMaster, or Craftsman, you’ll need to install a $20 adapter). For more information, read our guide to the best smart garage-door opener controller.

How it helps: The auto-close feature can automatically close the door if it's left open for a set period of time, which is an excellent safety feature. Of course, you don't want the door closing if you pop out to get the mail or the kids are playing in the driveway. But you can bypass that feature or just opt for Night Mode, which will make sure the door is shut at a set time every evening.

Another option to consider: We’re still looking for an off-the-shelf solution that can remotely open and close the door to your house, as well as doors around your house. A few people we spoke with recommended Open Sesame, but this is a professionally installed system that we have not tested. "Just opening my damn door is probably one of the most important things in the world for me, just being able to come and go," said Mackay, who is an avid outdoorsman. "That is the biggest thing for me."

Smart sensors are little gadgets that detect activity or conditions around the house, including movement, temperature, and so on. A contact sensor on your window can notify you when it is opened or closed. Motion sensors keep tabs on movement in and around your house, and they can trigger notifications and also other smart devices, or sirens, or sometimes emergency services. With these sensors, your home partially runs on its own, automatically taking care of seemingly trivial but often challenging daily tasks. For example, a motion sensor in the hallway could automatically turn a light on and then off, for late-night bathroom breaks or visits to the garage.

It seems a little large when mounted, but this motion sensor is cheap and works well. Just know that you also need to purchase an Aqara Hub.

May be out of stock

*At the time of publishing, the price was $20.

Compatible with: Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, IFTTT

Why it's a pick: If you’re planning to get a home security system, such as SimpliSafe or Abode, buy the sensors that work with that specific system. Otherwise, we like the Aqara Motion Sensor because it works well, and it's cheap enough that you can add more than one around the house.

How it helps: The Aqara (or several of them) can be placed in your home to act as a sentry—it will send an alert whenever it detects motion, and you can link it with other security-related devices if you like. But it can also be configured to trigger other non-security devices, which makes it singularly useful: Set one in the living room and have the lights come on at night whenever someone enters (and then automatically shut off later). Have the TV come on when you enter the den. And so forth. Motion sensors make it easier to automate your home.

Aqara's sensors are especially reliable because they rely on Zigbee wireless—so you never have to worry about Wi-Fi dead spots. (This also means you’ll need the Aqara Hub, for an extra $50.) Once you have the hub, you can connect additional sensors, including the Aqara Temperature and Humidity Sensor and the Aqara Door and Window Sensor.

An updated model, the $25 Aqara Motion Sensor P1, was released in April 2022. It claims to have a battery life of up to five years, and it will support Thread wireless. We hope to test it soon.

This sensor is smaller and cheaper than a lot of other contact sensors, and it works reliably. But it does require the use of an Aqara Hub.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $18.

Compatible with: Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Home, IFTTT

Why it's a pick: The Aqara Door and Window Sensor is one of the smallest (and cheapest) contact sensors we’ve tested, so it is easier to mount on doors, windows, and drawers. It's also very reliable, thanks to wireless Zigbee technology (this also requires installing the Aqara Hub, which can support up to 128 sensors).

How it helps: This sensor is unobtrusive, but it can keep tabs on when something opens and closes, such as a refrigerator, a medicine cabinet, or a front door. When something is open, it will trigger a smartphone alert or even the siren that's built into the Aqara Hub. And because it works with all of the major voice platforms, you can check on status via voice commands or tie it into other smart-home devices to get visual and audio alerts from smart speakers and smart lights.

Smart-home devices can help you keep tabs on who is coming and going, and whether your home is locked up for the night. They can even contact emergency services if needed. Although we reiterate that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, some of the devices below can provide peace of mind and help with daily tasks, too.

Using house keys is a common accessibility concern. "If you have a physical impairment or a visual impairment, getting a key into a lock is really hard to do," Hart said. Smart locks make it easy to lock or unlock doors in a number of convenient ways: automatically, as you arrive or leave home; by inputting a PIN code using raised buttons; and by voice command or even a fingerprint. From a security perspective, smart locks are especially handy because there are no keys to lose, and you can be notified whenever someone uses them. You can also check the status of locks using voice or an app, and set them to automatically lock every night or every time you enter the house.

Smart door locks are especially useful if you have regular visits from family, friends, neighbors, caregivers, delivery people, and service providers, as well as for those who often forget or misplace keys. Although some smart locks also offer an accessory keypad option, we don't recommend those models for anyone with vision or memory issues.

It features six different ways to unlock the door, including automatically and by fingerprint. We recommend adding the Ultraloq Bridge, which adds remote control.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $179.

Compatible with: Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant

Why it's a pick: The Ultraloq U-Bolt Pro is truly universal, because there are so many ways to use it. It has soft rubber buttons for code entry, an easy-to-use app, an auto-lock mode, and the option to use a physical key. Our favorite entry method is the fingerprint scanner, which is easy to use because the system can store up to two per user (and as many as 60 people can have access). For more information, read our guide to the best smart locks.

How it helps: Whether or not you can physically touch your lock, we recommend spending the extra $50 to add the Ultraloq Bridge, which adds Wi-Fi capabilities so you can lock and unlock the door remotely. (An updated model with built-in Wi-Fi is expected later in 2021.) This also adds the ability to pair the lock with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant devices, so you can lock and unlock the door with the sound of your voice (Alexa also requires you to speak a custom PIN out loud), as well as check the status.

Another option to consider: If you need a smart lock to pair with Apple HomeKit, we recommend the Schlage Sense, a previous pick that is substantially larger and offers fewer control options. It can provide remote control, allows for scheduling, and lets you monitor usage. When controlled using HomeKit, this smart lock can also be programmed to react to other smart devices. So you can automatically lock the door when your HomeKit-enabled smart bulbs go off for the night (automations like this also require a device that acts as a HomeKit hub, either an Apple TV, a HomePod, or an iPad).

Unlike a regular smoke detector, smart smoke detectors send smartphone alerts both when you’re at home and also when you’re away (or send alerts to caregivers). They can trigger other devices (like lights). And they can be silenced before the alarm goes off, using an app—which is far easier for everyone, especially those who aren't able to reach a ceiling-mounted device.

This smoke and carbon monoxide alarm warns of danger by voice and siren, sends smartphone alerts to as many as six contacts, and has a self-check feature and a built-in night-light that changes colors if there's an incident.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $115.

Compatible with: Google Assistant

Why it's a pick: Available in hardwired and battery versions, the Google Nest Protect responds quickly and reliably to actual danger—not just every time someone cooks bacon or takes an extra-long hot shower. Once the alarm detects smoke or carbon monoxide, it triggers a loud voice alert to let you know which room the danger is in and that it will trigger a siren shortly (this is a great feature since someone nearby can pause it using an app—and not a broomstick—before the alarm goes off). You can add multiple contacts to the app, so a caregiver can also be alerted in an alarm situation. Note that you can't silence an alarm via voice control, and it's silenced via the app only if you are in close proximity to the Nest Protect.

How it helps: The Nest Protect can also send smartphone alerts, which you can set up to go to family, friends, neighbors, and caregivers (as long as they have the Google Home app). It also has a motion-activated night-light as well as a self-testing feature, which regularly confirms that all is in working order and eliminates those irritating late-night low-battery chirps. The Protect has a built-in battery that lasts for 10 years.

Outdoor security cameras and smart video doorbells alert you whenever someone is detected coming or going from your home, whether they’re friends, family, caregivers, delivery people, or someone who shouldn't be entering. These devices are an especially good solution for those with mobility issues because they provide smartphone alerts when there is movement and enable you to talk to the visitor through the built-in speaker. Clark Rachfal, director of advocacy and governmental affairs for the American Council of the Blind, notes that these features can also benefit someone who is blind or has impaired vision by alerting them to movement and then enabling them to have a two-way, walkie-talkie-style conversation. "There are certainly safety and health benefits to those sorts of features," he said. (Full disclosure: The ACB has several tech sponsors and may provide feedback on corporate policies, products, and services to those companies.)

Many cameras can be set up to work with other smart devices, so you can use their motion detection to trigger a light or have a smart speaker announce when someone you know is at the door. The decision to use cameras should not be made lightly, since roommates, neighbors, and other guests may find cameras to be intrusive—and they may be protected by local or state laws. For more about these issues, see the post Security Cameras, Ethics, and the Law.

This doorbell can alert you to people, packages, animals, and cars going by. It also has a wide-angle lens that can provide a full picture of who or what is in front of the door, from head to toe.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $125.

Compatible with: Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit (with a compatible base station, such as the Arlo SmartHub), Google Assistant, IFTTT, Samsung SmartThings

Why it's a pick: The Arlo Essential Wired Video Doorbell can distinguish between people, packages, animals, cars, and general motion, and this device sends alerts telling you which it is. The extra smart-home brains and storage of all your motion-activated video clips require a monthly subscription to Arlo Secure, which provides 30 days of video storage for $3 per month. The Arlo Secure Plus plan ($15 per month) adds in Emergency Response, a service that allows you to specify whom you want to contact, with one-touch access to fire, police, and medical emergency responders. For more information, read our guide to the best smart doorbell cameras.

How it helps: If you get a lot of visitors and/or packages, a smart doorbell camera allows you to screen whoever comes to the door from anywhere in the house (or the world), regardless of whether the guest rings the bell or not. When someone rings the bell, you’ll hear a normal doorbell sound, but you’ll also receive a smartphone notification. From there, you can opt to answer the door remotely, view and talk to them through your smartphone or smart display, or just keep a record of who is coming and going—and how long they were hanging around.

Another option to consider: The Arlo technically works with HomeKit if you also buy the Arlo SmartHub (but then it disables Arlo Secure, which was the chief appeal of this model). If you need a HomeKit-compatible option, we instead recommend getting the Logitech Circle View. We are still testing this model and don't find it to be as accurate as the Arlo. But it does deliver clear images, uses encrypted iCloud storage, and has the capability to distinguish between general motion, people, animals, and vehicles.

The Nest requires a subscription to capture recordings, but you can choose whether you want to record 1080p video 24/7 or just motion events.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $198.

Compatible with: Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant

Why it's a pick: The Google Nest Cam Outdoor Wi-Fi camera delivers clear 1080p video, two-way audio, and reliable smartphone alerts. It needs a subscription to Nest Aware (starting at $6 per month) to capture recordings in the cloud (which we recommend over free, local storage because you can access it whenever you want, even when the power is out). Choose between a subscription plan that records only motion events or one that captures everything 24/7. Both also include specialized alerts that can filter events by people, general motion, people talking, a dog barking, and other general sound. For more information, read our guide to the best outdoor security cameras.

How it helps: Being able to keep a clear eye around your home—and share it with a caretaker or loved one—provides tremendous peace of mind. The Nest's ability to capture 24/7 video as an option is especially useful if you want to be able to review footage that otherwise may not have been recorded by cameras that capture only motion-triggered events. One of the best features of this camera is that it's waterproof—from the camera to the tip of the 25-foot power cord. (That means you’ll need to have an outlet nearby or use a weather-rated extension cord, which can be clunky.) As long as there is a power source, the camera can be placed almost anywhere within the range of your Wi-Fi signal and tilted to focus on a specific area, thanks to a versatile, magnetic mount.

This camera is cordless, so it's especially easy to install. It also has a strong battery life, a great image, HomeKit support, and three options for storing footage.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $370.

Compatible with: Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant

Why it's a pick: Not everyone has an outdoor outlet—or at least not where it's most needed. The EufyCam 2 Pro Wireless has a rechargeable battery, so it can be placed anywhere within range of your Wi-Fi signal. Eufy claims the battery can last one year, though we estimate it's more like four to six months per charge with normal use (that's still really good).

How it helps: A camera that needs charging a few times per year may not be the best option for people with mobility issues. But this one does include a few perks that you typically have to pay for, including video storage and the ability to distinguish between people and general motion. This camera can be set up so that when it recognizes something, it will record the action—in super-high-quality 2K resolution—to the included base station for free. Or you can instead opt to pay for the Eufy Cloud Service or HomeKit Secure Video (both of which start at $3 per month; notably, cloud-based video is reduced to 1080p resolution).

If you opt for HomeKit Secure Video (or integrate with Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant), you can link this camera system up with other smart-home devices. So, for example, if someone or something is going through your trash cans, you can configure it so that you’re notified by an audible announcement on a smart speaker or get a smart-bulb flash.

A security system isn't solely dedicated to alerting you to break-ins and other criminal activity. Smart systems include sensors that remind you when the door or window has been left open, cameras that notify you when a caretaker is coming and going, and smoke detectors that alert you if there's a fire (or eggs are burning in the pan). Some systems also offer other helpful add-ons, including water sensors, keypads, key fobs, glass-break sensors, and panic buttons—all of which you can access via a single app (instead of juggling several).

We strongly recommend adding a professional monitoring plan to any security system, so that in the event of an alarm, a live person from a call center will alert you, your loved ones, and anyone else you deem an emergency contact. The call center can also contact the police or fire department if needed or if no one can be reached.

SimpliSafe's starter kit is easy to self-install and use, is reliable when responding to incidents, and offers several add-ons.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $220.

Compatible with: Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant

Why it's a pick: SimpliSafe's system is reliable, easy-to-use, and has add-ons that include an indoor video camera, a doorbell camera, a smart lock, and smoke and other sensors. The 24/7 live-monitoring fees are $15 to $25, which is competitive with those of several other DIY systems. However, you can now also opt to use it as a self-monitored system (although we prefer to have someone else respond to those emergency situations). For more information, read our guide to the best home security system.

How it helps: The company has a variety of add-on sensors (but no standalone outdoor cameras). However, we love the Video Verification feature (available with the $25-a-month Interactive plan). This allows you to grant camera access to the monitoring station so that the team can observe indoor and doorbell cameras to see what actually triggered an alarm—a huge benefit, especially if the alarm goes off while you aren't home. This feature not only helps them provide better service but also cuts down on false alarms.

Abode has a number of useful accessories. But, unlike some systems, it's also compatible with a range of third-party devices, as well as all the major smart-home platforms.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $232.

Compatible with: Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant, and others

Why it's a pick: The Abode Smart Security Kit works with smart lighting, thermostats, voice control, and pretty much every other kind of smart-home device via support for wireless Zigbee and Z-Wave devices, as well as every major voice-control platform. We also like that Abode offers a lot of add-ons, including several types of door and window sensors, acoustic glass-break sensors, indoor/outdoor cameras, and other sensors and accessories (including a smoke-alarm monitor that works in conjunction with your existing UL-listed smoke detector).

How it helps: It takes a bit more patience and technical know-how to set up some of the add-ons and integrations, but this system is widely compatible with more smart-home devices than any other system. As a result, you can mix and match with your preferred smart-home devices (rather than the limited range of devices other systems may offer). And you can customize your system so that, say, a light bulb comes on whenever someone opens the back door or a ground-floor window.

About one in 50 US households each year file an insurance claim related to water-damage incidents, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Those often happen in hard-to-reach areas like the basement, by the water heater, or behind the washing machine. Smart water-leak sensors can alert you the instant water is detected by sending an alert to your smartphone. And some also emit an audible alarm or can trigger lights and sounds so you can tackle small leaks before they become a big headache.

This sensor issues a loud alarm when water is detected and sends quick smartphone notifications. And you can silence it on the device or in the app.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $75.

Compatible with: Google Assistant, IFTTT

Why it's a pick: The D-Link DCH-S161 is powered by two AA batteries and has a 6-foot extender cable that allows you to tuck the sensor into hard-to-reach spots. Once the probes on the end of that cable detect water, the base will sound a loud, 80-decibel alarm, which can be silenced in the app or via a button on top of the device. The D-Link sensor sends smartphone alerts when water is present and also when the issue is resolved—or if the D-Link loses power.

How it helps: The D-Link DCH-S161 isn't our top pick among water-leak sensors, but we think it's the best choice for those with accessibility concerns because its alarm is loud, it can be silenced directly on the device or in its app, and it integrates with Google Assistant and IFTTT. If you have hearing issues or the D-Link sensor is placed in a distant area (like a basement), even an alarm with a volume level on a par with that of a garbage disposal may not be loud enough. This is where smart-home integration comes in handy. We used IFTTT to set up a rule so that every time the D-Link detected water, it would turn on a Wyze Plug that's connected to a lamp.

As mentioned previously, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. However, in researching this guide, we spoke with many people who recommended items that include smart aspects (like an app or Alexa control) but are outside the smart-home realm. For instance, several people pointed to media streamers as being helpful for flipping channels and finding programming using voice commands, via a smart speaker or the built-in microphones in the remote. "That really allows people that independence to change the channel, change the volume, the inputs, power on, power off, and you don't have to utilize the remote," said Jeremy Boothe, assistive technology professional and consultant to PATF's Smart Homes Made Simple project. We like the Google Chromecast with Google TV for this purpose, as well as its easy user interfaces and how it doubles as a way to access Google Assistant. We also heard about the benefits of robot vacuums, smart refrigerators, automated pill dispensers, and even smart toothbrushes. We are excited to see smart features being added to everyday devices, providing more accessibility options than ever before. We plan to cover more of these items in the future.

Many of the experts we spoke with emphasized that one of the biggest challenges is that most smart-home manufacturers still need to adopt the principles of "universal design," the idea that a device should be specifically engineered so anyone can use it, regardless of their age or ability. "Universal design is a better way to phrase [the idea] of assistive technology, because words matter," Stabelfeldt said. "Universal design should be a forethought, not an afterthought." We know companies such as Amazon, Apple, and Google have included accessibility features in their products, and we’re hoping that other companies follow suit.

All smart-home devices require a smartphone (a relatively new iOS or Android model, which might restrict the devices you can use), an app (which often requires a user account), a connection to your home network, often another device called a hub, and then a place to put it (usually near an outlet). Unfortunately, even the best smart-home devices have issues and may require some quick troubleshooting and/or maintenance. Many times, just unplugging and replugging your home router can fix issues, but this may be a difficult task for someone with vision, mobility, or dexterity issues. All of the people we interviewed for this guide said they rely on friends, family, and/or caregivers to help. So ideally you can enlist someone you know who is comfortable with the technology you’re using.

Even though there is no one organizing body that can aid every person, there are several organizations that can help. The Gary Sinise Foundation has a national program called R.I.S.E. (Restoring Independence Supporting Empowerment), which relies on donations of time and materials to build mortgage-free, specially adapted smart homes for wounded veterans and first responders. There are also many smaller, local organizations—such as the Cincinnati-based LADD and Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Foundation—that may be able to help with smart-home planning, installation, and/or training.

Professional services, such as Best Buy's Geek Squad, and gig services, like Handy and TaskRabbit, offer installation services nationwide, including smart-home and after-install support. We contacted representatives from each company to find out the approximate cost of installing a smart Wi-Fi video doorbell, two outdoor Wi-Fi security cameras, a Wi-Fi thermostat, and a smart garage-door opener. Prices are dependent on your local area. So we gave each one the zip code for Wilmington, Delaware, 19805, and got quotes ranging from $73 per hour to $250 for the entire installation.

Jeremy Boothe, assistive technology professional and consultant to Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Foundation's Smart Homes Made Simple project, Zoom interview, May 7, 2021

Elizabeth Fields, former chief operating officer, the Gary Sinise Foundation, Zoom interview, May 26, 2021

Beatrice Geoffrin, director of Alexa Trust at Amazon, email interview, June 11, 2021

Lucy Greco, accessibility evangelist at UC Berkeley, Zoom interview, April 30, 2021

Brian Hart, chief strategy officer for LADD, Zoom interview, June 4, 2021

Ian Mackay, founder and executive director of Ian's Ride, Zoom interview, June 3, 2021

Brian Miller, chief growth officer at Handy, email interview, June 25, 2021

Suria Nordin, CPA and co-owner of SunKirb Ideas, Zoom interview, June 7, 2021

Clark Rachfal, director of Advocacy and Governmental Affairs for the American Council of the Blind, Zoom interview, June 4, 2021

Howard A. Rosenblum, CEO of National Association of the Deaf, email interview, June 7, 2021

Todd Stabelfeldt, CEO of C4 Database Management, Zoom interview, June 1, 2021

Susan Tachau, CEO of Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Foundation, Zoom interview, May 7, 2021

Danny Weissberg, co-founder and CEO at VoiceITT, Microsoft Teams interview, March 3, 2021

Best Buy's Geek Squad spokesperson, email interview, June 28, 2021

TaskRabbit spokesperson, email interview, June 28, 2021

Rachel Cericola

Rachel Cericola is a senior staff writer at Wirecutter who has been covering smart-home technology since the days of X10. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Wired, Men's Health, USA Today, and others. She hopes her neighbors read this bio because it would explain why she always has four video doorbells running simultaneously outside her home.

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