With the Push of a Button

How Hammer Residences solved a need through a small piece of technology

Sean Henderson, Information Systems Analytics Manager, Hammer Residences, Inc; Member, MN-NEAT

The most important step in creating a support for someone you care for is properly identifying the need to be cared for. There are many reasons why this step is important in the grand scheme of helping someone live life to the fullest, but it’s even more important when dealing with technological supports. Identifying the need creates a roadmap for your search to find the best item to suit the requirements of the individual. This is where many caregivers get stuck – trying to find that perfect piece of equipment that’s going to do exactly what a person needs it to do. Unfortunately, that perfect equipment can sometimes be cost prohibitive or may not even exist yet. We must do the best we can with the resources we have, and to that end, I have found and used a product I would like to share.

About a year ago, an ancient intercom system in one of Hammer’s homes started to act up. Because the system was used primarily as a way to contact staff when needed by people who relied on wheelchairs and lifts to get around, finding a new solution was very important. In meeting with the people living at the home, we found that independence and privacy were very important to each of them. They didn’t want to broadcast that they needed help for everyone else in the home to hear. In defining these needs, we were able to solidify what we were looking for in a support. We needed something that could get the attention of a person on the other side of a sprawling single-story home while being discreet and accessible for someone that has difficulty moving independently. This support also needed to come at a lower or equal cost compared to a new intercom system, which can be very expensive. Enter the Flic!

Flic is a wireless, Bluetooth enabled button that connects to popular automation programs and acts as the gateway from the connected web of these services to the physical world. Each button can be programmed with three functions depending on how you press it: single click, double click, and hold. These uses might not seem very applicable to supporting people with disabilities, but the power of these little gadgets lies in the customizability of their connections. For our purposes, we utilized automation programs like IFTTT (If This Then That), and Microsoft Flow, though it can be used with many other app services.

IFTTT is a free way to connect apps to supported devices and can trigger occurrences in the order of your choosing, such as turning on lights when you are on your way home, or flashing all the lights in your house if the smoke alarm goes off. To solve for our specific communication needs, we rigged the buttons to text/call a cell phone (we purchased a cheap, T-Mobile phone) whenever the button was clicked or held. This would also sound a notification (a bicycle chime) in the living room to alert staff that a text would be coming in.

Microsoft Flow, another service we utilized, can automate tasks like interacting with Microsoft Office software, sending email, and adding calendar events to your email client. We programmed our Flic buttons to connect with Microsoft Flow and send event data (information on what button was pushed at what time) to Excel, allowing us to analyze the information and help us be more proactive to the needs of the people supported at the pilot house.

The total cost of the project ended up being under $400 including a year of cell phone coverage. Not too bad considering we had budgeted over ten-times as much for a new intercom system.

No implementation is complete without a couple of drawbacks. Because of the sprawl of the single-level house, the Flic had a hard time transmitting its signal across the home. This resulted in notification delays or outright failures. To solve this, we bought another Flic Hub so the whole house was in range no matter where the button was. Even with that change, I sometimes hear reports of failed notifications, though the people using them say they work almost all of the time. Another issue is the small size of the button itself. The people supported in the pilot have difficulty with fine motor movement and clicking the small button proved difficult. Through a mix of positioning and patience, the person with the most difficulty was able to use it as needed. Hopefully in the future, I will be able to rehouse the button into a larger, more accessible unit.

Hammer hopes to expand the use of Flic in the future, especially in our apartment programs. By connecting staff with the people we support remotely, we can help foster independent living skills even when the person doesn’t have a smartphone. Flic will also be releasing a new version of the button later this year, featuring increased range and support for even more connectivity.

By properly identifying the needs of the people we set out to support, we effectively narrowed our search from millions of possible gizmos and gadgets to just a few. Of course, the Flic has its drawbacks and there are other items we could have used, but the system is doing what we need it to do overall. Until I find something better at the same price point, I’ll continue to use them professionally and personally.


About Hammer Residences, Inc. Since opening its doors in 1923, Hammer has helped thousands of adults and children with developmental disabilities experience life to its fullest. Founder Alvina Hammer believed that individuals with disabilities had the right to lead full lives in a loving atmosphere where they would feel secure and develop self-confidence. Hammer was one of only two Minnesota organizations at that time to offer people with disabilities the opportunity to thrive in a school and home setting. Today, Hammer Residences, Inc. provides residential and customized support services, including In-Home Support, Support Planning, Case Management, and Healthcare Coordination (SNBC) to more than 1,600 people throughout the state. To learn more about Hammer visit hammer.org.

MN-NEAT was started in 2015 when like-minded people came together to talk about how they use assistive technology to support individuals they work with. The goal was to learn from each other, so the group could educate others about assistive technology and connect people with the right resources. Now, the mission of MN-NEAT is to educate individuals and professionals about assistive technology and how it can improve quality of life.

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