Switches can be used to turn toys and appliances on or off, to make selections on a communication device, or to navigate a computer. They come in wired or wireless styles. The great thing about switch access is you can use any body part for control!
Switches can be activated by a pushing or pulling motion, a sound, a positional change such as a head tilt, or a small muscle movement like an eye blink. Below are just a few examples of common switches. You can learn more from adaptive technology companies like AbleNet and Enabling Devices.
What kinds of switches are there?
The most common switches are round buttons that you might press with your hand, head, or foot. Examples include the AbleNet Jelly Bean switch or the Gumball switch from Enabling Devices. However, pressure switches also come in many different sizes and textures. Pick one that has the sensory feedback and activation force most appropriate for you.
A proximity switch does not need to be touched. The switch will activate when you bring your hand (or other body part) close to it. This is a nice option for people who might not have the strength to press down on a switch.
Wobble switches can be activated by a swiping motion, such as an arm moving horizontally. They don’t require precise targeting skills.
Sip & Puff
Sip and puff switches are operated by mouth, using the movement of air. You control your device by “sipping” (inhaling) or “puffing” (exhaling) on a straw. This actually gives you four different input options: hard sip, hard puff, soft sip, and soft puff can all create different actions. You can use a single sip-and-puff switch in place of a joystick for hands-free control of a powerchair.
Some adaptive toys or appliances have a jack built into them for switch input. And some smart devices can connect directly to your wireless switch via Bluetooth. For more complex items, though, you will need a connecting box – “an interface” – between your switch and the device you want to control:
- To control a simple battery-operated toy, use a battery interrupter. Ask TechOWL how you can make these yourself!
- To control a computer, consider a USB device like the Hitch. You can plug up to 5 switches into the Hitch and they can serve arrow functions, mouse functions, or act like a space/enter key.
- To control a smartphone or tablet using a wired switch, you will use something like the Hook+ switch interface or Tapio.
- To control an appliance that plugs into a power outlet, like a lamp or a fan, you can use the PowerLink. This device lets you choose different modes of control – direct, latch, or timed – depending on how you want your appliance to run.