Updated: November 20th, 2019

A new wave of connector-rich technologies are giving greater independence to people with disabilities

By Adam Wahlberg

When Mark Siegel wants to play music in his Minneapolis condo, he twitches his left ear. This is how he controls his iPad, which is how he manages his home environment. To him it’s all quite remarkable. “I spent most of my life relying on nurses to do just about everything for me,” he says. “This is so much better.”

Siegel, 46, was born with spinal muscular atrophy, which is a genetic disease that impairs muscle movement. A ventilator fills his lungs and nurses assist him 24 hours a day, just not as actively as they used to. In fact, once he gets home, he pretty much just needs them to fasten his iPad earbud. After that, all he needs to do is scrunch his face like Samantha on “Bewitched” and Apple’s Switch Control technology allows him to click on his tablet. Voila. Broken Social Scene starts playing. He also turns on lights this way, controls the temperature, pays bills, and more. Switch Control, which launched in 2013 as part of iOS, is an accessibility feature that enables people to navigate and activate iOS touchscreen devices using subtle body movements, and it has greatly enhanced his life as well as the lives of so many others.

Mark Siegel finds better living through the Internet of Things. (Photo by Larry Marcus)

Siegel is one of 57 million Americans with a disability, according to the American Association of People With Disabilities. Europe counts another 80 million people with disabilities, and millions more live in countries around the world. This is a significant population with specialized needs. As the population in many countries ages, the percentage of people living with a disability will only increase. This makes smart-home technology solutions, all made possible by advanced connector technologies, urgent.

Apple’s suite of prod