Kevin Hoyt straps himself into his paraplegic-friendly mountainboard that was adapted for his use as his wife, Melissa, stands behind him, Saturday, July 8, 2017 near the Jordan River Parkway trail in Saratoga Springs, Utah. (Isaac Hale/The Daily Herald via AP) THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
SARATOGA SPRINGS, Utah (AP) — Kevin Hoyt uses a smart doorbell to see who’s standing on his front porch without having to go to the door. His wife, Melissa, will ask Amazon Alexa to turn off a light as she’s rushing out of the house. Ten-year-old Bailey uses Alexa to play songs so she can practice dancing or will ask the devices how to spell a word, or to play tic-tac-toe with her. Sometimes, Melissa and 14-year-old Cameron will use Alexa to face off with sports trivia questions.
The Hoyt’s Saratoga Springs home isn’t an abnormality in 2017 as families turn to smart technology to add a new layer of convenience to their lives. But for Kevin Hoyt, who became a paraplegic in 2015 after a fall, the tech means so much more.
“It has been amazing,” Kevin said. “I can think of three or four things that have made a huge difference in my quality of life — like my wheelchair, my ankle braces and the smart home tech. I absolutely put it on par with any medical equipment.”
Smart technology allows users to connect and control the technology in their home by using their phone or even just their voice. For Kevin, it means being able to turn off a light or turn on a fan without having to get to a switch.
“Mostly, it gives me more peace of mind that I can leave Kevin here on his own,” Melissa said.
And after he started to use smart tech to increase his independence, Kevin knew he couldn’t keep it to himself. So he founded Transition Tech Solutions, a business that performs smart home consulting and installation in Utah with a specialty in helping those with mobility issues.
Kevin was in his attic on New Year’s Day in 2015 when he fell, crashing through Sheetrock in his ceiling and falling into his living room.
“I do remember crashing through the Sheetrock, right up in this corner,” Kevin said, pointing to a spot on his ceiling, “between the smoke detector and the peak. So I remember the sound of crashing through the Sheetrock and then smashing into the ground below. I totally remember all of that, and laying on my back with insulation in my throat.”
Melissa called 9-1-1, urged Kevin not to move and tried to keep the kids calm while Kevin laid there in excruciating pain as an ambulance arrived.
To this day, they still don’t know what caused him to fall.
He had damaged his spinal cord. He was in the hospital for five weeks after the fall as surgery followed and he learned he was now a paraplegic. Kevin went home in a wheelchair, not knowing what his future held.
The next few months were all about physical therapy and learning if he couldn’t do something now, or just not yet.
“So far, most things have been not yet,” Kevin said.
Now, Kevin walks around his house using ankle braces and still has some sensation and motor abilities in his legs.
But those little motions, and physical therapy, are exhausting.
“There’s a huge amount of work for very little return, which is OK,” he said.
Everything takes work. Kevin’s morning routine now takes two and a half hours to complete, and walking is still difficult as he has to concentrate to send signals to his muscles.
“Trying to walk down the hallway and have a conversation, I can’t do both,” he said.
NEW SOLUTIONS TO NEW PROBLEMS
He can’t feel most of his legs, so Kevin uses his vision to keep his balance. It works pretty well, until that first winter after his injury hit, when the sun would go down early and suddenly getting to bed became a lot more dangerous.
“I couldn’t turn out the light and then get to bed, because I’ll go down as soon as the light goes out,” Kevin said.
So if Melissa wasn’t home, he’d either have one of the kids turn the lights off, or he’d go to bed with the light on and Melissa would shut it off when she came home.
Kevin, a self-proclaimed Amazon junkie, was considering either hiring an electrician to wire a light switch by his bed or the possibility of carrying around a lantern when he saw smart light bulbs online. From there, the smart tech in their house boomed.
After the lights, the front door was a whole other problem. Without ankle braces, it takes Kevin a long time to reach his front door using a walker.
“It used to be that I wouldn’t even attempt to get to the door because they would be long gone by the time I got there,” Kevin said. “Now, I get the notification. I can answer, I can see who is at the door and I can talk to them on my phone.”
He can even use his phone to immediately unlock the door and let someone in, or tell a mail carrier he’ll be at the door soon to sign for a package.
“It is seriously amazing to be in my bed and not get wound up or feel anxious when somebody comes to the door,” Kevin said.
He’s not the only one who uses the smart doorbell. The Hoyts said it’s popular with the neighborhood kids.
“Everyone knows around here that we have a talking doorbell,” Melissa said.
It’s not just those with disabilities who are benefiting from the technology, but their caretakers as well.
Vivint Smart Home, a Provo-based company that provides smart home technology and services, started working with a test group of families of children with autism about three years ago. Parents of children with autism took a survey rating their stress levels before and after smart technology was installed in their home. After the technology was installed, the parents rated their stress levels at half of what they were at before, according to Holly Mero-Bench, director of Vivint Gives Back.
Vivint Gives Back specifically targeted families of children with autism spectrum disorder or other intellectual disabilities. The technology is discounted for families of individuals with intellectual disabilities.
Children with autism tend to wander, which can be terrifying for a parent when they discover their child is missing from their home. Vivint alarms, cameras and sensors can capture where a child went and alert parents when a child leaves a home.
“Those individuals don’t have a lot of boundaries and they are not afraid of things,” Mero-Bench said. “So we find that those children, they get out of the house, they slip out without their parents knowing, so the parents have to keep an eye on them literally 24/7.”
Indoor cameras also give parents the ability to keep an eye on their children without having to be in the same room as them. Mero-Bench has heard parents say they can finally take more than just a quick shower because they can watch their children via their smart devices to assure they’re safe.
She said they’ve also heard of families who have used camera footage to show video of seizures to doctors.
Sensors on interior doors can also alert caretakers when a door to a pantry or bathroom has been opened.
Parents can record their voice to play when a door is opened to urge a child not to go outside, or to say it’s not time to eat yet when the pantry is opened.
“It kind of slows the kids down just a little bit,” Mero-Bench said.
And for caretakers of people with intellectual disabilities, that brief head start can make all the difference in catching a family member before it’s too late.
TRANSITION TECH SOLUTIONS
Kevin was in the middle of an online MBA program at Colorado State University when he fell. Afterward, he doubted if he’d return to school. He took a few semesters off before eventually starting classes again.
His program’s last class required a capstone project where the students apply what they’ve learned to a real business situation. The students pitched ideas, and then voted on their favorites. With one of the most popular projects, Kevin spent the next few months working with a team of students to build a business plan for a smart tech company catering to those with mobility challenges.
At graduation, Kevin stunned the crowd as he wheeled up in his chair, put a finger up to signal he needed a moment and then stood up amid a standing ovation to accept his diploma and continue walking across the stage.
The video of his walk reached more than 5 million people, becoming CSU’s most popular Facebook post in its history.
A semiconductor manufacturing engineer by day, Kevin never intended to become an entrepreneur. But after discovering how the technology has changed his life, and seeing the hope other people he’s met with disabilities have had when he’s talked about it, he launched Transition Tech Solutions earlier this month on top of his full-time job.
“I am astounded in the difference in quality of life it has made for me, and I am really independent and mobile for someone with a spinal cord injury,” Kevin said.
The products the business installs don’t require monthly fees. The business can install products like smart light bulbs and switches, smart speakers, video doorbells, garage door openers, ceiling fans, outlets and motion sensors.
And he doesn’t think the tech stops at just giving independence to people with disabilities. Kevin said he can see the smart technology also aid retiring baby boomers and the elderly who are becoming less mobile.
For Melissa, it hasn’t just been about adding additional convenience in the Hoyt home, but also about helping Kevin, who she was originally terrified to leave home alone, be more independent.
“I know that he sometimes feels bad at so much that I do,” Melissa said. “I know that sometimes he feels like he’s a burden when he’s not. But this way, it makes him have less of that feeling.”