In our Off the Shelf Solutions series, we will introduce you to some of the technology that has made a huge difference for us as a family and for Alexa and she lives life independently. Our first post will describe our journey with the ‘Jelly Bean’ Switch Adapter, pictured below.
Timing can be everything and can provide the motivation for change. It was the early ‘90’s and our family was adjusting to the presence of Alexa’s power wheelchair in our daily lives when Kathy and I both had new job opportunities. This would require us to relocate to the Harrisburg region of Pennsylvania. It also provided an opportunity for us to build a new house that was wheelchair friendly. One of the many concerns that we had was a way for Alexa to enter and exit the house on her own. While all of the exterior doors on our house had flush entrances, we chose the door to the garage to automate. We had a Gentleman Door Opener installed that would be activated by two large wireless jellybean switches. One switch was in the garage and one switch was in the house. The jellybean switches sent a signal to an X-10 unit with a dwell feature (timer) that would activate the air controls to open the latch and push/pull the door to open and close.
After some trial and error, we located the ‘sweet spot’ where Alexa could reach out and push the button to open the door. This has worked really well and is still in use 20+ years later despite the three air compressors, bunches of batteries and constant drywall repair.
Some time ago, we spotted a ‘vertical switch’ at a college we were visiting (example: https://www.sdcsecurity.com/docs/BollardPost-Datasheet.pdf) and it occurred to us that we might be able to improve on the operation of at least one of the jellybean switches with the vertical addition of some wood trim. Alexa prefers to simply drive up slowly and press the board (which presses the button) using the footrest of her wheelchair. She could use her hand, but she doesn’t have to maneuver her chair around if she uses the footrest.
Equipment and Supplies Used
Tools we used: wood saw, drill, 5/16 drill bit, screw drivers, plyers and/or adjustable wrench, sanding block
Supplies we used: 6” wide pine board approx. 46 inches long, ¼ threaded rod, nuts and washers to fit the rod, small springs, one small cabinet hinge
While it did not concern us if someone should accidently bump the switch and activate the door, we wanted to relocate the switch for this adaptation to a spot to help minimize the chances of anyone snagging the unit from the side with their clothes, packages (or wheelchair) damaging the setup. We also considered that it might be easier for Alexa to approach the switch straight on. We had the option to use the end of a small guard rail that terminated with a 2×6 that went from floor to ceiling in our garage.
After determining our new location, we figured out how high to mount the switch by lining up the pine board at the same angle as the switch button. After mounting the switch, we trimmed the length of the board so that when placed on the floor, it would extend above the switch to allow us enough room to attach the threaded rod and springs. After attaching the small cabinet hinge to the bottom of the board and the wall, we drilled a 5/16 hole through the board and the 2×6 at the end of the railing. We then pushed the ¼ rod through both holes to measure how long the rod should be. Be sure to allow for the threaded nuts and washers at each end. We then cut the rod to length and as we passed the rod through the first hole, made sure to add the springs to the rod before it passed through the second hole. Then, we applied washers and nuts as necessary. Be sure to manipulate everything so that the wood trim board moves freely back and forth. Apply enough springs so that the wood trim board does not rest against the switch. After testing and final assembly, be sure to sand any edges to reduce the chance of anyone getting splinters.
Other items can be used in place of wood. Our first attempt was with a metal door threshold. While it worked, people kept getting nicked on the edges and Alexa’s wheelchair actually dented it where her footrest made contact. Another option might be some of the synthetic wood trim that can be found in hardware stores. I believe that if requested, they may be able to cut it to length as well.
Watch our YouTube video to see how it works!