Incompletely Secure

This post was written by graduating student Amanda Ackerman.

A photograph of a smoke detector with smoke.

Hello. My name is Amanda.  For my DST 99 paper I chose to go out of my comfort zone and research a topic that has not had much attention, but one that looks at a specific service that is offered to all people both in their homes and in their work places.

The focus to my research was to inquire about accessibility in the alarm industry. This research was completed through a qualitative ethnographic study.  It was based on field work including interviews, a questionnaire, literature review and object analysis.  My literature review included topics such as the social model, universal design, adaptive technology, home automation and the alarm industry.

I based my research on the  following question:  Does the alarm industry have alternative adapted equipment and or devices to provide equal security through alarms to all people in society?

I wanted to learn more about the inside workings of the alarm industry. Like who benefits from alarms, how to go about getting one, what is offered and who it is offered to?  Does the alarm industry provide inclusion for all people or are there groups of people missing within the industry?   Is the alarm industry designing devices and equipment based on universal design?  In this paper while looking through a social model lens, I explore these burning questions and issues to determine if the alarm industry has built its services to provide equitable services to all people in society.

I unpacked this through interviewing people who have disabilities, family members of people who have a disability and individuals who work with people who have a disability to gain access of first hand knowledge, experiences and stories surrounding the alarm industry and the services it provides.  I also spoke with  individuals in the alarm industry, taking concerns to them and seeing when and if the alarm industry is able to provide more inclusive equipment.  Upon my completion, I found that the alarm industry provides equipment to some groups of people with disabilities but not all.

There were many different responses I received from individuals I spoke with.  For example some barriers include the in/ability to arm or disarm their alarm either from the alarm panel or from the key fob.  Some respondents highlighted difficulty communicating through the use of the alarm panel as it is not effective for all people and the in/ability to control the smoke detector when it has a false alarm.  Although there is some adapted equipment that the alarm industry can provide, it is not sufficient enough to provide full inclusion.  For example, someone who has fine motor difficulty and cannot push the button on the panel or use key fob has the option of a touch screen. However, the touch screen is very sensitive and requires one to be accurate, which can be difficult for someone with fine motor difficulty.  Although there are iPhones and tablets, not all security systems are equipped to work with them.  I learned that the alarm industry does provide  safety and security for most people, but basis their services on the average person in society.  There is a lot of adapted equipment available but designed for the older population.  They do provide some adapted equipment but with a great deal of limitations.  Through my contacts in the alarm industry, I feel that continuing to identify and collaborate with the professionals, there is a way to enable a more inclusive service.  One that doesn’t separate “us” and “them”.

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