Independence starts at home

Valentina Zincati

Independence starts at home

Open, Sesame! The doors, windows, TV, computer and many more devices open and close as she commands. Valentina’s home is fully equipped with voice-controlled devices that allow her live independently.
Mari visits her at home during the journey he made for recording the ‘Wheelchair Roadmovie’ series.

Joining forces

Valentina is a writer and director living in Bologna, Italy. At the age of ten, she started to learn how to speak with the help of American doctors; more than 30 years later, she now controls her home solely through voice commands. The project of turning her home into an accessible one was realised together with the AIAS Bologna Onlus Institute.

“This unique project was a great challenge for us”

We ring the bell and, after a few seconds, the door opens automatically. Valentina warmly welcomes us in her home. Later on, Massimiliano Malavasi, the architect who worked on creating the accessibility functions of the house, is also paying her a visit and telling us about his work.

In the third episode of the series we discover Valentina’s unique story of independent living – right at home. Due to her constraints on movement, she needed her house to be a fully-responsive environment, not only an accessible place. Reflecting on her needs, she approached the AIAS Bologna Onlus Institute. Together, they have made plans and tests, likewise finding the right solutions for Valentina to go around the house independently. ‘This unique project was a great challenge!’, Valentina and Massimiliano tell us.

Several microphones are now installed around the house, capturing all of Valentina’s vocal commands: ‘door 5 open’, ‘TV open’, ‘previous channel’ etc. The commands are being ‘sent’ via wi-fi signal to a special computer (looking something like a bigger telephone) and then ‘executed’. Even though this configuration sounds (and really is) very complex, the looks of it give nothing away. The house is a jolly and welcoming open-space, filled with objects (doors, curtains, bed) and devices (computer, TV) that have been slightly modified to have ‘special’ functions.

If you are familiar with Siri, the voice assistant of Apple devices, then you already know that the ‘message’ you speak doesn’t always get across correctly… Valentina also encountered this problem with her own home computer. It took her a while to ‘train’ it into learning and understanding her words (commands) correctly. Improving the communication between her and the computer is an ongoing process, but it only gets better and better with time. The more she uses the system, the better it functions. The computer now manages many of the tasks that Valentina’s personal assistant used to have, reducing the latter’s working time outstandingly much.

Finally having managed to really feel ‘at home’ in her own house, Valentina is now working on conquering Bologna’s bumpy streets!