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Integrated controls

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An Integrated Control System is a device that enables a person with physical disabilities to operate a range of technological assistive devices from a single access source. These include speech output devices to communicate, environmental control units to operate aids to daily living and powered wheelchairs for independent mobility. Each of these has its own operating system (keyboard, joystick, switches, voice recognition system) and, generally speaking, independently controls each device. An Integrated Control System acts as an interface between the person’s preferred method of access and a range of off-the-shelf technological assistive devices. For example, it enables a person who has very limited physical movement, who could perhaps operate one or two switches, to drive a powered chair and operate other existing aids to living, remotely and independently, with the same switch. Integrated Control Systems reduce the amount and type of switches required to access a range of equipment. [1]

Advantages and Disadvantages


The advantages of integrated control are that persons with limited motor control can access several devices with one access site without assistance, and the user does not need to learn a different operating mechanism for each device.


Integrated Systems have been in existence for a number of years, most have been tailor-made for particular individuals. However, they can lack the flexibility required of a manufactured system that must be readily adaptable to meet the needs of a range of different people with different abilities and requirements.

When are integrated controls appropriate?

Integrated controls may be useful in the following cases:

  • When an individual has a single, reliable access site
  • When the optimum access method for each assistive device is the same
  • When the individual prefers integrated control for personal reasons (e.g., aesthetics)

Integrated controls may not be appropriate in the following cases:

  • When performance on one or more assistive devices is severely compromised by integrating control
  • When the individual wishes to operate an assistive device from a position other than from a powered wheelchair
  • When physical, cognitive, or visual/perceptual limitations preclude integrating
  • When it is the individual's personal preference to use separate controls
  • When external factors such as cost or technical limitations preclude the use of integrated controls


An effective integrated system enables a person to access different equipment independently without compromising their most efficient accessing skills with each device.

Optimizing flexibility is important for a number of reasons:

  1. Increasing available options maximizes the “fit” between the system and individuals’ specific needs so that the best of their abilities are realized. These relate mostly to the number of switches the user can use and how each one is used combined with how the scanner is sequenced.
  1. Flexible reconfiguration allows sensitivity and adaptation to changes in individuals’ requirements over time.
  1. The system needs to be able to act as an adaptable interface between an individual’s preferred method of access and a changing variety of existing third party assistive technology aids.
  1. A wide range of individual needs must be met for commercial production of the system to be viable.


Configuring the system means altering some of the parameters that personalize the device to a person’s needs and abilities. Some of these parameters are about how the person will use the switches for accessing each piece of equipment: How many switches can the person use? How will they use them? Are time delays involved? Other parameters relate to “tuning” the system to operate specific third party equipment: Is remote control required? What signals need to be sent out remotely? Together, these parameters form a number of options for the person using the system to choose from.

A flexible system requires a large number of options, consequently this makes setting up and configuring the system for an individual more complicated. Although a health professional would carry out this task at a local level, it is assumed that this person may not be completely familiar with special controls, integrated systems and the range of options available. This person is also likely to be unaware of the relative merits and differences between options. It is very important to ensure the right options are chosen optimizing the system to meet the physical abilities and needs of the person.

Things to consider

People with impaired mobility, speech and motor functions can benefit greatly from an integrated approach to the provision of assistive technology. For some individuals, this is best achieved by integrating control of a mobility aid, computer, voice output communication device and environmental control system into a single, multifunction unit. However, driving a powered wheelchair effectively for example, requires quite different skills and controls compared with accessing a computer or communication aid. Integrated systems must therefore be designed to take account of these differences to avoid compromising safety. For this and other reasons, many people with disabilities are best served with an integrated package of several devices rather than a single integrated system. Standardization of interfaces, mountings, and power supplies is necessary if such integration is to be achieved. Finally, cost-effective provision of integrated assistive technology is only possible if the services responsible for delivering communication, mobility, environmental control and computer access systems are themselves operating within an integrated structure.

Additional Information


  1. Revised Draft Guidelines for Accessible Public Rights-of-Way United States Access Board
  2. Proposed Accessibility Guidelines Pedestrian Facilities in the Public Right-of-Way
  3. #4.29 ADA Accessibility Guidelines
  4. ADA Standards for Accessible Design Department of Justice
  5. Detectable Warning Surfaces Access Board Requirements