Sunday, November 9, 2008

What can you do with a PowerLink?

Questions I've heard a lot recently:
What is a PowerLink?
How do you make a PowerLink work?
What can you do with a PowerLink? Or Why should I get one?
How do you use your PowerLink?

After hearing these types of questions from more than one special educator, some of whom are fairly savvy in the world of assistive technology, I did some quick research to see if AbleNet or somebody else had put out an idea list for a PowerLink similar to the ones that are out there for switch use and using a Big Mack. I was surprised to find NOTHING. Nothing? No ideas whatsoever (OK, that I could find in a 30 minute Google search) for one of the most versatile and easiest to use evironmental control units on the market? So I decided to make this the topic of my next blog post.

First, an introduction to AbleNet's PowerLink 3 environmental control unit. It is basically a box that allows you to adapt electrical appliances and devices so they can be accessed using switches. There are four basic modes of operation: timed seconds, timed minutes, latch, and direct. The timed modes allow the device to run for a set period of time (0-60 seconds or minutes) after the switch is activated (also known as press and release). The latch mode is basically an on/off switch: one switch activation turns the device on, the next turns the device off. Direct mode requires the switch to remain activated to cause the device to run (also known as press and hold). The PowerLink 3 allows you to connect up to 4 different appliances (2 on each side) with 2 switches (which means that when the right switch is pressed both appliances on the right will run at the same time). Some of the units allow for wireless control using an Airlink switch. You can also achieve wireless control using a jellybeamer transmitter and receiver (my preference because you don't have to have a direct line of sight between the transmitter and receiver). Essentially you can plug any electronic device into a PowerLink, but there are some limitations to the amount of juice it is able to handle. For instance, I think a large TV would overwhelm the device and I don 't think it could handle all the Christmas lights on your house, although it did just fine with the Christmas tree. It opens up participation possibilities to kids with physical and other challenges in a host of areas including daily living skills (cooking, cleaning, personal care), leisure activities and play, vocational skills, and artistic expression. I couldn't live/teach without it (as noted in a previous blog post). In fact we have four in my classroom with an additional out on loan and they are used every single day.

Now for the question of what to do with a PowerLink...

Use the timer to work on cause effect skills using a tape player and a tape of favorite music or stories (sorry, CD players do not currently work with a PowerLink because interrupting the power flow to one completely stops the play; would love to see AbleNet or somebody else work out a solution to this; the "adapted" players I've seen out there only allow for latching/on-off activation and they are battery hogs). Works great with a radio too.

Use latching to allow a switch user to control the music during a game like musical chairs.

Use latching to allow a switch user to control the pacing of an audio book or to pause the story when given a cue by the teacher so the class can engage in discussion.

Use either timed seconds or direct mode to operate a hair dryer to:
  • dry hair after swimming or bathing
  • dry paint on an art project
  • dry dishes
  • participate in science experiments

Use to adapt appliances like the mixer, blender, or food processor during cooking activities.

Attach blinking lights and place on direct mode to allow a child to explore switch use (see Two Switches to Success by Linda Burkhart, et al). Or use timed mode to more actively engage a passive student in sensory activities.

Use latching and a paper shredder to work on following directives during vocational training (turn it on now; OK, turn it off).

Using direct mode, attach two different toys/devices to allow a student to explore (two switches, two uses). Direct mode allows for greater independence than timed. In timed mode the first device activated will continue operating for the preset time no matter how often the student activates the other switch. Direct mode removes this exploration obstacle.

Allow the student to operate his own electric toothbrush (if it plugs in) or water pik during self care.

A water pik can also be used in a water table or to water plants, just be sure to keep the electicals safe from water intrusion.

Use the mode of your choice and attach to a vibrater/massager mat (we found ours at Wal-Mart) so the student can control the activity without getting overwhelmed.

We like to hook our bubble machine from Wal-Mart up to the PowerLink and blow away.

Adapt a fan for a student who overheats easily, who likes to feel moving air, or to blow on and move a mobile.

Attach to a lamp using latching mode so a student can signal for assistance during nap/quiet time or simply control the amount of light in his environment (like in a multisensory space).

Allow the student to work as a partner with someone else to operate a vaccuum or dust buster.


  1. Actually I posted a list of things to do with a single switch that was half for battery adapters and half for power interruptors (Powerlink and Electra) on February 27, 2007.


    Here is the link:

  2. Great resources. This might be useful too: