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Image with a white old dial television and an orange accessibility symbol on the screen

5 Movies About People with Disabilities

05/29/2020

The world is starting to open back up after COVID-19, however we can all do our part to reduce the spread by staying home during this long weekend. No better way to motivate yourself to stay home than a Netflix-marathon! Here are some ideas for shows that have people with disabilities in them! What are you binging?

Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution

This movie is an incredible story about the plight of those on the forefront of the disability rights movement in the United States. From it’s beginnings at a hippy-run summer camp, to sit-ins and protests and the community and friendship that sustained the movement all along the way, this movie is both incredibly powerful, moving, inspiring, humorous and overall a must-watch. 

The trailer can be found here: Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution

The Fundamentals of Caring

This movie is a fun and witty watch! It is about a man named Ben who suffers a personal tragedy, and quits his job to become a caregiver for Trevor, a teen with Muscular Dystrophy. The two embark on a road trip and chaos ensues. While the story centers around the client-caregiver relationship, it emphasises the human-ness in the relationship and does not leverage Trevor’s disability for cheap tear-jerking in the way Hollywood typically does. 

The trailer can be found here: The Fundamentals of Caring

Raising Dion

In this super-hero show, Sammi Haney, a 9 years old who uses a wheelchair, plays the main character (Dion)’s friend Esperanza. She is his wise friend, who helps keep Dion out of trouble (as much as she can!). This show is fun for the whole family and definitely worth a watch!

The trailer can be found here: Raising Dion

Switched at Birth

Looking to brush up on your ASL? Look no further than Switched at Birth! This show is about girls who find out they were switched at birth. One character is hard of hearing, and played by an actress who is deaf. Much of the show is signed in ASL, and gives viewers a deeper understanding of the deaf community. 

The trailer can be found here: Switched at Birth

Breathe

The story of a man who is unable to breathe independently, but refuses to live in the confines of a hospital for his life. Him and his wife embrace the technological innovations available to them to be able to leave the hospital, and embrace life together. This movie shows the importance of technology to destroy the barriers facing people with disabilities from living independently. It shows how far adaptive technology has come. To learn more about adaptive technology and the importance of it to support independence, check out Braze Mobility Blind Spot Sensors for Wheelchairs

The trailer can be found here: Breathe

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Finalists announced in startup competition that will showcase technology-based solutions for seniors and caregivers

05/28/2020

Fifteen Canadian startups have been chosen to compete in this year’s AGE-WELL National Impact Challenge, it was announced today.

Finalists will be challenged to explain how their technology-based solution can positively impact older Canadians or their caregivers.

Five finalists will compete in each of three virtual events reflecting the broad spectrum of innovation that exists in Canada’s AgeTech sector. The winner at each event will receive $20,000 in cash, plus in-kind prizes.

Finalists in Competition #1 (June 18 livestream):

  • eNable Analytics
  • HomeEXCEPT
  • Novalte
  • ServUs Health
  • Sparrow Acoustics

Finalists in Competition #2 (July 9 livestream):

  • Able Innovations
  • Braze Mobility
  • Neurofit
  • Stabilo Medical
  • VitalTracer

Finalists in Competition #3 (Sept 29 livestream, in conjunction with the BC Seniors Living Association annual conference):

  • GTCare
  • MatchWork
  • Seven Movements
  • Tochtech Technologies
  • Virtual Gym

Read about the finalists here.

To register to watch the first two pitch events via livestream, please visit the competition main page. Registered audience members will have a chance to win a Kobo eReader.

Each event also includes a lively panel discussion on the future of AgeTech and its impact on areas such as brain health.

“The need for technologies and services that benefit older Canadians and caregivers is more apparent than ever in these challenging times,” said Dr. Alex Mihailidis, Scientific Co-Director and CEO of the AGE-WELL Network of Centres of Excellence. “This competition will spotlight top Canadian startups whose innovations can support the health and quality of life of seniors and those who care for them.”

The competition will also support entrepreneurship in Canada’s AgeTech sector, and advance our country’s leadership in technology-based solutions that benefit people everywhere, Dr. Mihailidis said.

AGE-WELL, Canada’s Technology and Aging Network, brings together researchers, older adults, caregivers, partner organizations and future leaders to accelerate the delivery of technology-based solutions that make a meaningful difference in the lives of Canadians.

AGE-WELL thanks all startups and entrepreneurs who submitted applications to the AGE-WELL National Impact Challenge, and congratulates the finalists. Each finalist will deliver a 5-minute pitch, followed by a 5-minute Q&A with a panel of expert judges.

Thank you to the sponsors of this competition: Aging2.0 Local I Halifax Chapter, BC Seniors Living Association, Bereskin & Parr LLP, CARP, IBM Canada Ltd., Impact Centre, Innovacorp, Innovation PEI, New Brunswick Innovation Foundation, Ontario Brain Institute, Spectrum Health Care, and YouAreUNLTD.

newswire.ca/news-releases/finalists-announced-in-startup-competition-that-will-showcase-technology-based-solutions-for-seniors-and-caregivers-814690251.html

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Preparing for Emergencies When Using a Wheelchair: Healthcare

05/24/2020

s the world faces the COVID-19 crisis, it is time to evaluate what emergency preparedness means for the disability community and wheelchair-users in particular. The focus of this article is the development of the health care accessibility standard for people with disabilities. This advice is written by Terri-Lynn Langdon who is a resident of Ontario, Canada and uses a wheelchair. The opinions expressed are Terri-Lynns, and should not replace medical advice. 

The healthcare concerns of the wheelchair-using community demands attention every-day in order to continue to make healthcare services and options increasingly accessible to all of us, and no time for this is more crucial than during the Covid19 crisis. Here are 5 things to consider when advocating for yourself in the healthcare system to ensure you are ready for whatever the happens.

  1. If you do not have a family doctor, reach out to your local health care network and inform them of your situation, and ask to be advised on next steps. In Ontario, contact Health Care Connect http://www.health.gov.on.ca/en/ms/healthcareconnect/pro/
  2. If there are non-essential medical needs during this time, speak to your healthcare provider about accessing your appointment remotely through tele-health or delaying it until after COVID-19 concerns are controlled.
  3. For essential care needs try to access a familiar clinic and use the same service as often as possible to help ensure continuity of healthcare and communications related to your healthcare visits. Make sure you let your healthcare team know what you need in order to make your healthcare experiences as accessible as possible, this includes transportation to medical appointments.
  4. In a medical emergency, you cannot control which hospital or medical team you receive care from. For this reason, keep a summary of your medical conditions, emergency contacts and medications in your wallet.
  5. Make sure that your medications are up to date and that you have access to them. Call your local pharmacy and see whether they will deliver your medications. Call ahead to pre-book delivery to ensure you are able to receive your medications on time. 

Thank you for joining us! Come back next week for the second part of the Emergency Preparedness for People Who Use Wheelchairs series. 

Sources Consulted:

Health Care Connect Ontario. Accessed Online:  http://www.health.gov.on.ca/en/ms/healthcareconnect/pro/ 

Lapofsky, D. (2019). Achieving a barrier-Free healthcare system. Osgood Hall Law School. Accessed on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2yuFz_z9V0

Medic Alert Canada (2020). Accessed Online: https://www.medicalert.ca/programs

Revoler (2020). Accessed Online: https://revolar.com/ Thompson, G. (2020). What Must Be Done to Make Ontario’s Health Care System Fully Accessible to Patients with Disabilities? Check Out the AODA Alliance’s Finalized Framework for the Promised Health Care Accessibility Standard. Accessed Online: https://www.aoda.ca/what-must-be-done-to-make-ontarios-health-care-system-fully-accessible-to-patients-with-disabilities-check-out-the-aoda-alliances-finalized-framework-for-the-promised-health-care-accessibility-st/

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Image with flowers on each side and two people in the middle in a heart with one person on the left in a wheelchair

An Open Letter to Mothers with a Disability

05/10/2020

On this day of celebrating the triumphs and joy of motherhood, we want to wish all parents and mothers a wonderful day, and thank them for all of the work that they do. This blog was written by Terri-Lynn who is the mother of an 18-month old daughter, and uses a wheelchair. In this open letter, Terri-Lynn shares her experience, including the challenges and guilt that can arise as a result of societal pressures and opinions toward parents with disabilities. 

To all of the disabled mothers and parents on this day, I want to let you all know that in my mind and in my heart you are loved, you are loved, you are loved.

In a world where disabled parents are constantly questioned by ignorant others who ask, “is that child yours?” I feel the heartache of that….

In a world where disabled people are told that their genes are dangerous or unwanted, I am sending love.

In a world where you are told that your role as parents is unwanted, undesirable, unlivable, inconceivable, irresponsible, and selfish, I am sending love….

In a world where you may be told that you are a burden to society and to your own children, I am sending love….

In a world where disabled parents are often subjected to violence in the form of cutting words and myths, I am sending love.

In a world where your parenting role is validated, praised, and valued I am sending love and hope that others in the world can get to that place as well.

To all parents with a disability: I hear you, I see you, and I am holding a space of love and hope for a world that honors disabled parents and disabled women on Mother’s Day. 

I am a single-choice mom and a wheelchair-user of a 19 month old little girl. I love my daughter deeply, and we have conquered many challenges together. On February 1st of this year I sent out an SOS on Facebook for help. In hindsight, I’m unsure why I sent this particular SOS because I was offered help but ironically, I did not have time to respond. However, I do know it made me feel as if I was doing something to maybe change the course of a very bad day. 

My day went as follows: our nurturing assistant did show up but she had to leave early. All was well but Jaycie didn’t nap at all that day and by 2:30pm all of the contents of my daughters’ lunch of chicken pasta in tomato sauce and rice pudding were on the floor. I left her momentarily with some crayons and a coloring book to go pee and in that minutes long period of time the tomato sauce and rice pudding were all over the floor and the wall mixed in with toilet paper in a fantastic piece of 15 month old paper mache art. My efforts to clean this all up were met with more mess in the kitchen by my 15-month-old artist. I was about to lose my mommy-mind so, after I cleaned up my little girl, I told Jaycie we would put on her shoes and go for a walk in the halls and in the lobby. She agreed, as she is a talented runner. All was well. The day was getting better I thought, but then….

My little girl got stuck in an elevator by herself because it got jammed and refused to open. I could hear her in the elevator, but the door would not open. I yelled out to my neighbours when it appeared that the elevator went to the parking garage. The security guard was nowhere in sight. One neighbour went downstairs to the parking garage by foot; the other one called 911 to say my kiddo was stuck, alone, in the elevator. A third neighbour who was just coming in from the parking garage picked up Jaycie and brought her to the lobby. When she saw me she was laughing and was all smiles. My heart had to be revived.

In this story, on this day, all was well. But there are deep moments of guilt within that story as a wheelchair-using momma. Starting with… well if my legs worked I could have run down to the parking garage myself. If my legs worked, and if only I had enough depth-perception to drive, I might know where the parking garage is (I’ve actually never been there!). If I had more balance I could and should mop up the tomato-sauce rice pudding toilet paper-mache mess off of the floor. But, in the absence of that, most of that mess will be there in some form until tomorrow when an able-bodied person using able-bodied tools will, and can do it. None of this would have happened if we could just take the stairs!

And the very worse thought of all….yes the elevator obviously malfunctioned, that could have happened to any parent regardless of ability, but what if Jaycie went into the parking garage and because she is so small and so unexpected in that in that environment…what if she had been hit by a car!?

This is my experience of deep guilt as a disabled mother. It’s actually hard to write about.

Since the state of emergency in Toronto my extremely happy, and engaged child has become distressed some of the time because the loss of daycare and going out to play spaces and seeing friends is not possible. For the first time, I am seeing my child struggle with boredom.

And I…. love the privilege of being her mom and at the same time I’m an exhausted woman. Due to a spinal condition I am not supposed to lift anything over 20 lbs. Jaycie is well over 20 lbs and I lift her all of the time, and now many more times a day, due to a lack of her wonderful daycare. As a wheelchair- user you can’t lift anything with your legs to offset the weight as is the ‘safe-lifting procedure’ for folks with more mobility. 

And without writing a very long essay. I need to say to disabled parents and to anyone who might listen and might care that the disability community and disabled parents have been largely overlooked and forgotten in this pandemic and that is a weighty truth.

A few days ago, Jaycie was very direct in reporting “I not bebe.” She also absolutely burst into tears in the lobby a few days ago when no one would hug her or pick her up. This was a regular highlight for her and for me before the pandemic hit.

In an effort to be ‘a good mother’ I am not imposing any kind of additional changes in my young child’s life at the moment. For example, a pediatrician recommended that we give up bottles just before  the pandemic and I’ve chosen not to do that because it might represent  another loss for my child. Additionally, My child has some toys that she has grown out of including a push-cart that she doesn’t need because she runs and has great balance all on her own. But because she loves her push-cart, I’ve not rehomed it yet.

Terri-Lynn’s daughter wearing sunglasses

What I have learned in this time is that I am incredibly strong. My child just had her 18 month doctors appointment and from the point of view of that visit, Jaycie is doing great. My child is strong and resilient, and wildly intelligent and funny. I am always-already reminded of how deeply human we all are from the late night feedings, and deep mother-guilt. Occasionally my child wakes up at 3:00am just to attempt to tell me a story or sing Old Macdonald and that is to be cherished. There are also my own wild nightmares, body pain, the limits of my body faced with the limits of the pandemic and the limits of a toddler’s body-mind. There is my own mind and my own wild nightmares. And in being human- at the end of the day- there is hope.  

I have also learned that I should never have quit drinking coffee.

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Professional Communication with Attendants & Nurturing Assistance during COVID-19

03/30/2020

Blog by: Terri-Lynn Langdon

With the City of Toronto in a state of emergency due to the global COVID-19 crisis, these are especially challenging times for wheelchair users. As a wheelchair user and a sole-parent to an 18-month-old, my daughter and I both rely on Direct Funding for nurturing assistance and attendant care. As the situation worsened in Toronto, one of my attendants was worried about taking the the public transit. Another attendant had been traveling extensively and was required to self-isolate upon returning home. Since I have a limited amount of funding and hours support, and folks to support us, this predicament left my daughter and I in a tough spot. Having said that, I was able to plan to cover the shifts for the attendant in self-isolation, but not for the attendant who felt that taking public transit was not an option.

Recent conversations with my friends and colleagues on social media revealed that we were not alone in this issue. As a result, I sent out a short note to our support team. Hopefully sharing this communication can help others plan how to handle attendant care disruption during this time. My email stated the following points:

  • Attendant care is an essential service and we rely on attendants/nurturing assistance for daily living needs. As such, coming to work is an essential expectation of the role. I shared that attendant care agencies across the province are in full swing.
  • Individual homes and any work-related tasks under direct funding have Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) coverage for all staff, starting on their first day of work. The safety of the work environment is the responsibility of self-managers and this is an important worker protection. I assured all staff that I was doing more spot-cleaning and surface cleaning in our home. I also reminded everyone that we always have soap, hand sanitizer and gloves on hand.
  • If people using attendants can’t do surface cleaning on their own or if there are some areas of your home that are challenging, let your staff know how you plan to address that (if that is a concern for anyone).
  • I informed staff that as a self-manager in receipt of Direct Funding, we are not eligible for any other service as a result of qualifying under this program which is funded by the Ministry of Health.
  • I also shared that as a self-manager, I could not personally address the challenges occurring with transit during a city-wide lockdown, however I would be open to helping folks access a taxi service in the city if needed.
  • I opened up communication with our team inviting them to reach out if they had concerns.

Considering these multi-layered concerns and how they impact wheelchair users, it is important for those of us who use these essential supports to become advocates for the attendant care and nurturing assistant professions. As a group, wheelchair users can advocate for:

  • Attendants to have job protection and benefits at work.
  • A living wage for this profession.
  • More visibility for the profession especially during states of emergency.
  • Addressing gaps in services and existing policies for individuals with mobility impairment during a time such as this one.

In much of the communication I have seen so far, the disability community has been more broadly referred to as a ‘vulnerable group’ and the direction in these communications is that friends, family and professionals need to check-up on individuals with disability. However, this tone of communication is non-committal and often lacks references to specific resources. Unfortunately, it also does not speak to the specific actions or support that individuals with disability require during emergency situations.

Simply acknowledging attendants and nurturing assistance as an essential service may help for emergency measures communications. This recognition is crucial given the importance of the role that attendant care professionals play in the lives of those with disabilities. The state of emergency is challenging for everyone; however, if attendants don’t show up because of restrictions in emergency situations, the disability community will be in a persistent state of disadvantage. Such consequences are unacceptable in a community where assistance is required for basic and essential tasks of living and being.

*Some organizations have indeed provided specific resources which will be identified in a subsequent blog post.

Terri-Lynn Langdon is a feminist, disability studies and health equity scholar/ activist in Social Justice Education at The Ontario Institute for Studies In Education. She has over 11 years of experience in the Social Work field. Terri-Lynn is passionate about helping people to achieve the best possible health and a meaning-making life. She can assist service-users to figure out how best to address their own challenges and be their authentic selves.   

References:

Direct Funding Ontario (2020). Accessed Online: https://www.dfontario.ca/

Self-Managers: https://www.dfontario.ca/

Direct Funding (2017). Program Promoting Independence Grows Again. Accessed Online: https://www.dfontario.ca/info/announcements.html

Email communications from Councillor Krystin Wong-Tam and Councillor Paul Anslie, March 22, 2020

Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (2020). Accessed online: https://www.wsib.ca/en/businesses/registration-and-coverage/do-you-need-register-us

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All About Accessible Design

02/04/2020

When I joined Braze Mobility, I found all discussion of the design process fascinating, and the iterations undertaken by the design team are a great study in accessible design. The following blog series will discuss Universal Design and Accessible Design, and will profile some great design concepts that inspire and help.

There is no such thing as disability, only poor design*. Of course, some people have a harder time navigating the built environment than others, and there are people who have physical and cognitive abilities that change the way in which they interact with the world. But, when a person is unable to go into a restaurant because someone built stairs instead of a ramp, is it their disability holding them back, or the short-sightedness of the architect who failed to realize not everyone gets around using two legs? Likewise, if someone who is on the Autism spectrum has difficulty visiting a shopping mall at during the holiday times, the poor overstimulating design is to blame for their inability to interact with the environment.

The world is beginning to become more accessible. Governments are producing legislation that forces businesses to ensure their premises are as accessible as possible, such as the AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act). Ensuring that spaces and products are able to be used specifically by people with disabilities is important. People regardless of ability and mobility should have the same opportunities to succeed and interact with their environment, no question. Ensuring that a business is accessible also benefits the business itself. By being inaccessible, not only are you losing the business of the person who can’t get into the store, but also everyone who is with them. Accessible design benefits everyone.

But, design for people with disabilities has an added benefit- spaces and products designed to be used by people with disabilities also tend to be easier to use for people without disabilities as well. Take the example of the curb cut, for instance. (If you haven’t heard the story of the Rolling Quads at Berkeley in the 1970’s, there is a great 99% invisible podcast that outlines the story.)

The positive impact of curb cuts benefits everyone, not just those with disabilities. Whether a person using a wheelchair, a parent pushing a stroller, an elderly person wheeling their groceries or just someone crossing the road who doesn’t want to take a step up, curb cuts help make travelling on sidewalks easier. Studies have shown that 90% of people will alter their course to use a curb cut instead of stepping up onto a curb, regardless of physical ability.

This phenomenon is known as the “curb cut effect”, and is a widespread aspect of design.

So, how can we design things to be universally accessible, and therefore a better design for everyone? Follow this blog series to follow our accessible design process! I would love to hear from you if you have any thoughts about accessible design. You can reach me at madeleine.r@brazemobility.com!

*This statement is intended to demonstrate the necessity of considering all abilities in design, and how good design can enable all people to interact with their environment. It is not intended to minimize the impact a disability has on someone’s life.

Further reading: https://ssir.org/articles/entry/the_curb_cut_effect

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Accessible Travel Ideas

01/28/2020

Everyone needs to get away and escape real life at some point, and no time is better than mid-winter to jet-set away! Travelling as a person with a disability can be difficult- the need to bring extra equipment and airlines who just can’t seem to figure out how to transport wheelchairs without breaking or losing them. The knowledge that your destination will not only be accessible, but fully inclusive makes it all worth it. We put together a list of accessible vacation spots that are fun for the whole family! All of these locations were designed specifically to meet the needs of people with various disabilities and fully include people of all abilities in the activities and fun!

Accessible Travel In North America
Accessible Travel In The United States

The Magical Bridge is an organization that builds accessible parks designed to match the needs of people of all abilities, where everyone has the chance to play and explore! The playgrounds are completely FREE to visit and are located in multiple cities in California, USA. They are rapidly expanding, so keep an eye open for a Magic Bridge opening near you!

In San Antonio TX, there is a fully inclusive theme park and water park called Morgan’s Wonderland and Morgan’s Inspiration Island. You can take a spin on the giant Ferris Wheel in your wheelchair, or splash around in a fully accessible pirate ship. The organization also offers discounts for nearby hotels with accessible rooms, so you can plan your trip stress-free! 

Accessible Travel in Canad

There are many options for summer camps in Canada that are fully accessible for people with disabilities! I have a special place in my heart for Easter Seals Camps, which have both individual sessions for campers aged 8-26, and family camps where the whole family can enjoy camp fun! Check out Easter Seals Camp Woodeden in London- you can climb the largest fully accessible high ropes course in North America, take a dip in the pool, make pottery, bake treats and have a camp out in the fully accessible yurts! 

There are Easter Seals Camps all over Canada- check out your local Easter Seals to learn more!

Alberta- Camp Horizon

BC- Camp Squamish

     – Camp Winfield

     – Camp Shawnigan

Nova Scotia- Camp Tidnish

Ontario – Camp Woodeden

             – Camp Merrywood

Newfoundland and Labrador – Camp Bumbleberry

Saskatchewan- Camp Easter Seal

At the Cold Water Ranch the Abilitas foundation offers a fully accessible vacation home for people with disabilities and their families to go to get a break from real life and have time to bond as a family! Set in the mountains of BC, 30 minutes west of Merritt you can experience the tranquility of a working ranch in a fully accessible lodge. You can stay for up to 4 days, with just a modest fee for booking and cleaning. 

Accessible Travel In Oceania
Accessible Travel in Australia

Sargood on Collaroy is a purpose built resort for people with a spinal cord injury. Located on the sunny shores of Sydney Australia, Sargood on Collaroy is a great place to escape everyday life, and try out all sorts of new things- surfing, sailing, snorkeling, golf, ceramics, fishing, gardening, kite flying- you name it! All of the activities are run by therapists who specialise in assisting people with spinal cord injury, and adaptive equipment is included! Sargood on Collaroy is a fully accessible location, and they supply most of the equipment you will need, so you can travel light. There are also attendants on site, who can assist you or you are welcome to bring your own carer! Some funding is available for a stay, although pricing is not available on their site.

Accessible Travel in Europe
Accessible Travel In Sweden

Sweden has made it a goal to be the most accessible place to travel. Check out their accessible travel website which includes a database of accessible locations. Some planning is required, however travelling Sweden with accessibility needs is made much more possible by the huge steps taken by the government and other organizations to improve accessibility and to clearly mark accessible locations. The database shows detailed pictures and descriptions of accessibility features and barriers, and could help plan a great vacation!

The Musholm Centre is a new fully accessible sports resort designed for people with disabilities, located 2 hours from Stockholm. The centre provides accessible activities for the whole family including power wheelchair hockey, rock climbing and many other sports and activities. They also provide equipment needed during your trip if you arrange ahead of time so you can pack light! You could tag a stay at the Musholm center onto a tour of Scandinavia, one of the most accessible areas of the world.

Accessible Travel In Asia
Accessible Travel in Japan

Japan has made big investments in increasing accessibility. Their Accessible Tourism Center provides resources and recommendations for planning a trip. They make recommendations for areas you can visit, including the accessibility requirements for businesses. 

Want to be safer while you travel? The Braze Mobility blind spot sensor systems provide many benefits to travellers who use wheelchairs! Sensors can alert you to pickpockets looking to get into the backpack on the back of your chair, and to navigate unfamiliar spaces! Check out the new Braze Sentina here!

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What Are Autonomous Wheelchairs?

01/15/2020

As self-driving cars begin to enter the market, it becomes increasingly likely that self-driving wheelchairs will be developed. The implications of this are incredible, and will certainly change the way people roll! This blog series will look at where we are now on the journey towards fully autonomous wheelchairs, as well as some of the pros and cons of self-driving chairs. While I am not an expert on robotics (I’ll leave that to our CEO Pooja), I hope that these insights will help you understand what autonomous technology is and can do!

Self-Driving Wheelchairs: What Are They?

Self-driving vehicles are trickling their way into the market slowly, with Google’s Waymo leading the way towards a 2020 projected launch. The adapted cruise control to maintain distance between 2 vehicles, the lane monitoring software to alert drivers when they are crossing over the line in a road are all already implemented in cars. These technologies make cars safer and easier to drive and are generally considered to be good advances in safety technology. However, trouble arises when you take the human completely out of the equation. Complete reliance on a computer’s ability to make life-or-death decisions properly raises concerns, and the ethics of programming a computer to make those decisions poses issues. Despite this, self-driving cars have been on the streets for a fair while, logging over 10 million test hours (England, 2018), and feeding the AI with data about traffic navigation. This process will take years and millions of dollars to reach the point where you could own a car without a steering wheel or brake pedal.

How it works:

The basic model is that the computer is teaching itself how to drive. By using artificial intelligence (a computer that can teach itself), and inputting millions of hours of driving data into the framework, the computer essentially learns to identify situations. When a car encounters, say a person on the side of the road, it will compare this to the millions of other humans that have been encountered in the past and compute the risk of collision. This will include identifying the probability that the person will step out in front of the car, the speed at which the person is moving, the degree of turning which must occur to avoid the person, the amount of brake that must be applied to avoid hitting them, etc. The car will also need to calculate whether steering around the person will put the driver or other cars at risk, and if so will require a pre-programmed decision-making process to decide whether to swerve, brake or neither. Of course, it is all infinitely more complicated than this, and there are many other factors being considered.   

But, we aren’t talking about automobiles, we are talking about wheelchairs, which will likely be more difficult to program to drive safely. Cars operate in fairly controlled environments. On roads, cars and pedestrians observe clear traffic rules (even if they aren’t always followed well- I’m looking at you Toronto drivers!), and although there is some level of unpredictability this is limited. Wheelchairs, on the other hand should be able to travel anywhere someone could walk, meaning the situations that the wheelchair will encounter are pretty much as diverse, unpredictable and lawless as walking through Union Station during rush hour. Additionally, it is likely that self-driving cars will be able to communicate with each other, creating network effects, and helping cars to avoid colliding with each other. People who drive wheelchairs often face challenges with people not getting out of their way, or even walking right into their chair. Communicating with humans is a difficult challenge for autonomous wheelchairs, as warnings would need to be inclusive of people with low vision and/or hearing. 

Another challenge will be inputting the desired destination for the wheelchair. While cars can be programmed to travel to a specific address, the input for a wheelchair destination is much more complex due to the large diversity of places a wheelchair can travel.

Take, for example someone at a stadium needs to use the washroom. One possibility is that the person will click a button on their chair that says “bathroom”. The chair will then need to have either a blueprint map of the building, or cameras that can monitor the environment in search of the accessible washroom sign. Using this information, the chair has located the closest washroom! Now, the computer will decide the optimal path towards that washroom. This will require the computer to know the location of all stairways to avoid, and all ramps and elevators (assuming chairs are unable to climb staircases at this point). The path is set, and the chair begins on its way! Dodging people and alerting them to move out of the way, the chair approaches the bathroom. When it approaches, the chair deploys a signal to the door to open, or a mechanical hand to push to automatic door opener. The chair registers that the door is open and is able to move into the washroom!

Once in the bathroom, the chair must be able to choose between the available stalls to locate the accessible one, and the person using the wheelchair may want to back into a specific bathroom stall at a certain angle to make transferring easier. While the wheelchair driver or a human attendant may be able to use their past experience about the easiest transfer method, and therefore best location to park in, a computer may have difficulty accounting for all variables. Assuming this chair has learned from its driver, it successfully docks, and the process must be repeated to return the person to their place in the stadium. The complexity of this decision-making process is high, and potential for mistakes is high as well! A wheelchair colliding with a person is dangerous.

 A bathroom is an easy target- what if the driver is hoping to travel to a more specific environment (ie the coffee table to the right of the doorway separating the kitchen and living room). Considering input method must be adaptable for people who have a difficult time speaking or typing the challenge increases. All of these challenges will be faced by developers looking to create self- driving technology for wheelchairs.  

While Google Maps and other automobile tracking software has been perfecting available maps of streets and traffic, there are no such maps making blueprints of buildings- this means that autonomous vehicle technology must either find ways of interpreting the environment at a human level of understanding (ie- reading signs, sensing walls and obstacles etc), or every building that self-driving wheelchairs are in must be carefully mapped and categorized.

All autonomous technology is a challenge. It will be years before self-driving cars begin to emerge on the market. As you can see, self-driving wheelchairs pose even greater of a challenge for software developers and thus will likely take even longer to emerge onto the market.

The benefit that self-driving wheelchairs will inevitably bring to the population who uses them is incredible. Working towards an autonomous future for wheelchair controls is certainly a good thing- but the challenges are real as well. Our next post will look at the ethical implications of self driving chairs- the good and the bad! 

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New Technology Helps Older Canadians Age In Place At Home Safely

12/06/2019

Soon after turning 70, Marianne Buzza knew it was time to downsize. But it wasn’t about the size of the house. “I love to garden and had created a bit of a monster. We needed a smaller yard!” she says with a laugh.

She and her husband, Wally, also wanted to live in the town of Wasaga Beach, ON, so they didn’t have to rely so much on driving. They found a townhouse that’s “perfect for us,” with plenty of extra space in the basement and a loft for visits from the kids and grandkids.

The new home also came with two flights of stairs. While Marianne, now 75, and Wally, 86, are both mobile, they recognized that the stairs put them at greater risk for falls. “A lot of people our age have mobility, but our balance is sometimes not what it used to be. We need that extra bit of stability.”

The couple found the solution in a new product called StairSteady (see below for details), manufactured in Whitby, ON. The fixed handrail uses a moveable support handle for users to grasp when going up or down stairs (see sidebar). “It goes at your pace because it’s not motorized. It can take a lot of weight and you can really lean into it,” says Buzza, adding that it blends right in with the décor. “It will be a selling feature because a lot of retirees move here.”

As more baby boomers enter their 70s and 80s, home safety will become increasingly important. For example, products and services to prevent falls, or to reduce the risk of wandering for people with dementia, are fast becoming available. Perhaps it’s time to update the old saying to, “There’s no place like a safe home.”

And it’s not just about safety. It’s increasingly about building and equipping homes that better support the changing needs of older adults, particularly in the areas of mobility and memory. Such foresight may help avoid moves to retirement homes or assisted living. In fact, Mary Huang, a family caregiver who helped move her 86-year-old mother and 90-year-old father out of their house to a condominium, would describe home-based support as a societal priority.

“Many people have no option but to stay home,” says Huang, an information technology consultant. “Retirement homes are expensive, and the waiting lists for long-term care are crazy. We need to be more creative, and this is where technology can come into play.”

Big plans for high tech

In 2016 Huang became involved with AGE-WELL, a national network of researchers partnering with government, businesses and non-profit organizations to develop innovations that support “aging well,” ideally in the comfort of one’s own home. As a caregiver and with her background in technology, Huang is excited by what’s coming from the network. “It’s good to see the federal government investing money in research outside the current models for healthcare and homecare.”

Smart sensor technology, for example, is a big focus for AGE-WELL. From garbage cans that signal when they need to be emptied to furniture that monitors vital signs and movements, homeowners can live more independently, and caregivers can provide support more efficiently. Artificial intelligence and non-intrusive computer vision will lead to devices, such as “social robots,” that learn people’s habits, interact with them and notify caregivers if issues emerge.

One of the first AGE-WELL products to become commercially available is Braze Mobility’s sensor technology for wheelchairs, to help people (of all ages) navigate their chairs more safely (see below). More than 60 products and services are in the works, all of which aim to transition from research to reality in the near future. “The start-up companies coming out of AGE-WELL are going to accelerate, which will lead to competition and more options for consumers,” says Dr. Pooja Viswanathan, a Toronto-based researcher and CEO of Braze Mobility. “This is especially important for the aging population, because so many of their needs are currently unmet.”

YouAreUNLTD.com is pleased to launch “No Place Like Safe Home,” a series of articles about what you can do to continue living safely and independently at home. Coming next: how building standards are changing, and retrofitting options for your current home.

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Wheelchair Users Enjoy New Freedom, Thanks to “Smart” Sensors from Braze Mobility

10/22/2019

Dr. Pooja Viswanathan, CEO and Co-Founder of Braze Mobility appeared as a guest speaker at AGE-WELL’s National Conference in Vancouver last year. See how she created a new technology to help power wheelchairs and scooters detect obstacles, helping older adults increase their spatial awareness and maintain their independence. Watch the video for some notable highlights.

You can find out more about all the important work AGE-WELL is doing here.

More experts and disruptors will be on hand at the AGE-WELL’s 5th Annual National Conference in Moncton, New Brunswick, from October 22–24, 2019. Get all the details here.

Launched in 2015 through the federally-funded Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE) program, AGE-WELL NCE (Aging Gracefully across Environments using Technology to Support Wellness, Engagement and Long Life NCE Inc.) is Canada’s technology and aging network. AGE-WELL is dedicated to the creation of technologies and services that benefit older adults and caregivers.

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