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‘We’re in a good place right now’: Women entrepreneurs share their experiences at U of T event

03/08/2019

Building a startup company is a daunting prospect – often more so if you’re a woman. But things may finally be starting to change.

That was one takeway from a panel discussion, held on the eve of International Women’s Day, featuring three female founders from the University of Toronto.

While all three panellists – Leila KeshavjeeSaara Punjani and Pooja Viswanathan – acknowledged the myriad challenges women founders still face in the business world, two of the entrepreneurs said gender had relatively little to do with the roadblocks they faced while trying to launch their companies. 

“I’ve been lucky to not have the fact that I’m a woman get in my way,” said Punjani, who is the chief operations officer at Structura Biotechnology, which uses artificial intelligence to help pharmaceutical companies visualize proteins for drug discovery.

She attributed her positive experience, in part, to the support of her team, which includes Structura co-founder and CEO Ali Punjani – her brother.

Viswanathan, meantime, credited the fact she had a PhD when she started building “smart” wheelchair company Braze Mobility for helping to dull any gender discrimination she might have faced while dealing with male clients and investors.

“We’re in a good place right now – we’re seeing a lot of support,” said Viswanathan, citing various entrepreneurship programs at U of T and elsewhere in Ontario.

The discussion, part of the RBC Innovation & Entrepreneurship Speakers Series, drew a crowd to U of T’s ONRamp co-working and collaboration space on College Street. It was moderated by Professor Christine Allen of the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, who is involved in two startups herself. 

Referring to the new ground each panellist was breaking in their respective sector, Allen called the three entrepreneurs “female pioneers.”

Unfortunately, it wasn’t all smooth sailing gender-wise for the panellists.

Keshavjee said she definitely felt like she was treated differently while trying to get her all-natural ice pops company Happy Pops off the ground. She even recalled dealing with a businessman who didn’t believe Happy Pops was actually her company.

With a bachelor’s in kinesiology from U of T, Keshavjee said things began to change last fall after she appeared on the season premiere of the CBC program Dragon’s Den, walking away with a deal with Arlene Dickinson. But while the show helped elevate her personal brand, Keshavjee said she feels for women entrepreneurs who don’t get similar opportunities.

“Women shouldn’t have to go through that to be credible,” she said.

The bulk of the evening, however, was spent talking about the specific challenges each panellist faced while trying to turn their ideas into a money-making enterprise.

Viswanathan called the experience “terrifying” because she had no idea what to expect each morning when she woke up – a feeling she said continues to this day. Even so, Viswanathan said she is “laser-focused” on trying to solve a problem after witnessing, as an undergraduate student, residents of a long-term care facility slumped over their wheelchairs and unable to get around.

Her solution? Sensors and software that help motorized wheelchair operators navigate their environment, giving them back their freedom.

She heaped praise on the Impact Centre, one of nine on-campus entrepreneurship hubs, for helping her problem-solve a way to a viable product.

“For me, as someone with no business background, that was a home away from home,” she said.

Punjani, similarly, said Structura tapped into the vast expertise at U of T – both while trying to build a product and for getting advice on how to deal with Big Pharma customers. She said the startup received support from UTEST and the Department of Computer Science Innovation Lab, or DCSIL, and is benefitting from being based at the nexus of the Toronto’s burgeoning innovation ecosystem.

“We’ve been fortunate to work with some of the incubators and accelerators here – and through ONRamp,” she said. “That proximity really helps.”

As for Keshavjee, she also credited the Impact Centre for helping her launch Happy Pops, despite the fact that it’s not a typical, research-based university startup. “They really helped me grow the business,” she said.

That growth appears set to continue. After working with Dickinson’s packaged-goods focused accelerator in Calgary, Keshavjee is now preparing to relaunch the brand this spring.

“We’re projecting half a million in sales this year,” Keshavjee said. “I knew the day would come when we didn’t just have a seasonal business – where it wouldn’t just be a summer treat for kids.”

https://www.utoronto.ca/news/we-re-good-place-right-now-women-entrepreneurs-share-their-experiences-u-t-event

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HELLO, TOMORROW!

03/01/2019

Robotics have the potential to impact CRT in a big way. How are startups and researchers tackling the complicated landscape?

When Dan Ding first started as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pittsburgh in 2001, she had never heard the term “rehabilitation robotics.” She attended robotics conferences while earning her Ph.D. in Hong Kong, but rarely saw sessions on healthcare applications, much less the type of work that would soon change the complex rehab technology (CRT) industry.

“I don’t think at the time the term was coined,” Ding, now an associate professor in the university’s Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology, told Mobility Management. “I definitely witnessed the whole growth of this technology’s involvement in rehabilitation and assistive technology, so I feel very fortunate that, before that happened, I was able to get into this field.”

Ding’s early experiences are a far cry from the landscape of robotics in complex rehab today, where new startups have introduced technology ranging from eye-gaze wheelchair controls to blind-spot sensors that can be mounted on several parts of a power chair. Large manufacturers are following suit by integrating new developments, such as patient monitoring technology, into their seat cushions and chairs.

While there is a sense of unlimited possibilities for the applications of robotic technology, experts in the field say there are also immense challenges facing the industry, particularly in terms of the high costs for patients seeking the latest equipment and the regulatory hurdles for CRT companies trying to bring innovative products to market.

Braze Mobility Sensor System

Braze Mobility’s sensor system

For Pooja Viswanathan, the CEO and founder of the Toronto-based blind-spot sensor manufacturer Braze Mobility, the CRT industry is just “skimming the surface” of what’s possible in terms of finding solutions for patients.

“I think there’s tremendous opportunity for growth as long as it’s customer-centric,” Viswanathan said in an interview. “The challenge in robotics is that it often ends up being a technology push. As long as the focus stays on the problems rather than the solutions and on the customer rather than the developer, there is tremendous opportunity.”

A WINDING ROAD FOR IBOT & TOYOTA

The path for robotics in complex rehab has been long and winding over the past two decades, including the widely publicized production (and later discontinuation) of the iBOT stair-climbing wheelchair system.

In 2003, Independence Technology — a division of healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson — introduced the iBOT to rave reviews from mainstream media, who hailed the wheelchair as a revolutionary device that “will force [wheelchair users] to reconsider virtually all the presumed boundaries in the world,” according to one Dateline NBC reporter.

But as Mobility Management reported at the time, Independence Technology hit several snags in its quest to sell the iBOT directly to consumers via clinician assessment and cut CRT providers from the distribution chain. The chair cost $26,000 at the time the company ceased production in 2009, and Medicare declined to classify its seat elevation or stairclimbing abilities as “medically necessary.” While popular with veterans and some clinicians, the iBOT also did not offer typical rehab functions, such as tilt, recline or elevating legrests. In addition, users needed the ability to use a traditional joystick.
Mobius Mobility iBOT

Mobius Mobility’s iBOT

In turn, Independence Technology struggled to sell the chair, citing low demand before dissolving in 2009. The iBOT has continued to be revived by other companies, including Toyota North America and most recently by Mobius Mobility, which began promoting the chair last year with some added rehab functions.

Toyota is no longer involved with the iBOT nearly four years after signing an agreement with inventor Dean Kamen to develop the “next generation” of iBOT, according to Doug Moore, GM, Technology for Human Support at Toyota North America. Instead, Toyota has been at work on several mobility-related projects, demonstrating the Japanese mega-corporation’s commitment to becoming a “mobility company” rather than an automotive company, Moore said.

“We have been spending a ton of time, especially in this complex rehab area, making sure that we understand the real needs,” Moore told Mobility Management in an interview. “We’ve been looking at the end customers, whether it’s direct users, caregivers, care receivers or ATPs, PTs, DMEs, all these individuals. We’ve been having conversations across the whole world to understand what are the real challenges and what are the real needs that are out there.”

At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2020 in January, Toyota’s display featured examples of mobility products that would be included in the company’s ideal “Woven City.” Those products included the Human Support Robot (HSR), an AI robot with voice-control capability, and a wheelchair-link battery electric vehicle (BEV) designed for “those who have difficulty walking and those in wheelchairs,” according to a press release.

Moore, who has risen to the top of the robotics team since joining Toyota in 2011, stopped short of committing to any mobility product releases from the company. He noted his experience working on Project BLAID, a wearable device for blind and visually impaired people that the company first publicized in 2016. While that and other mobility products have not been released yet, showcasing that Toyota is focused on developing inclusive products is important, Moore said.

“I’ve intentionally tried to make sure we don’t over-promise and under-deliver, because there’s still a lot of thinking that has to go into these platforms to make sure we can execute it right,” Moore said. “We want to show people that we are thinking and considering the true needs and the true value of what it means to bring solutions to the whole broad community, but at the same time we have to be careful and cautious about what we put out there.”

ROBOTICS PRODUCTS COME TO COMPLEX REHAB

Robotics engineers in the CRT and mobility world have one trait in common: a desire to see their algorithms and technical work turn into an application that changes people’s lives.

For Jay Beavers, a co-founder and managing member of Seattle-based Evergreen Circuits, the inspiration came from Steve Gleason, the former NFL player turned ALS activist. When Gleason challenged a group of Microsoft employees to create a system allowing him to drive his wheelchair with his eyes, they answered the call.

After Microsoft decided not to proceed into the medical device sector, Beavers and his partners created their own company and began to sell the Independence Drive system, which combines a power wheelchair, tablet computer and eye-tracking camera, in 2018.

“The thing that I think robotics will do that will really impact this industry is provide for more independent living and reduce the need for 24-hour caregivers,” Beavers said in an interview. “Japan is kind of on the cusp of this because they’re ahead of us in terms of having an aging population and not having enough caregivers. We in the U.S. are going to need to address the same issue in the next 20 to 30 years. That’s the biggest opportunity.”

Read the full article here: https://mobilitymgmt.com/Articles/2020/03/01/Robotics.aspx

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The Ethical Implication of Autonomous Wheelchairs with two symbols one on the right is of the Scale of Justice and one on the right is the accessibility symbol with a compass in wheel of the chair

The Ethical Implications of Autonomous Wheelchairs

12/10/2018

We talked about what autonomous wheelchairs are, and some of the barriers that will need to be overcome before fully autonomous wheelchairs enter the marketplace in our last blog post. We will now examine some of the ethical limitations of autonomous wheelchairs, as well as the benefits that they will bring to people who use wheelchairs and their caregivers. Have thoughts about autonomous wheelchairs? I’d love to hear from you at madeleine.r@brazemobility.com!

Last summer, I went to visit the camp for kids and young adults with physical disabilities that I used to work at. While there, I was heading back with a group to their cabin after a campfire- it was very dark, and the path was unlit. One of the campers that I have known for many years asked if I could navigate his chair through the darkness until we got to an area that was better lit up. We got chatting, and he told me that he very rarely asks others for help with navigating his wheelchair- unless he feels that there could be danger to himself or others he will maintain control. He said that having grown up all of his life with CP, his power wheelchair is one of the few things that he has total physical control over, and giving up control is almost unthinkable. This made me stop and think about the future of power mobility, and how it will affect the relationship between a person and their wheelchair.

There are many potential benefits to autonomous power mobility. Power wheelchair accidents are common (as per our wheelchair collision blog post series!) and can be deadly, especially among the older population. In Canada, falls among elderly people resulted in over 7,000 deaths between 2000-2002 (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2005). In institutions with many elderly people, having an power wheelchair can be seen as a danger to the other residents, and some facilities ban the use of power mobility altogether. Autonomous wheelchairs have the opportunity to prevent accidents, by sensing their environment completely and predicting the safest path, removing or reducing the probability of driver error causing an accident.

Autonomous wheelchairs also have the ability to provide access to independent mobility for people who otherwise need to rely on attendant care to mobilize. Having the ability to move throughout the environment is important for mental health and well-being. For people who do not have access to 24-hour one-on-one care, relying on attendants for mobility could be frustrating. Autonomous wheelchairs would provide independence for the person using the chair, and would reduce the burden on caregivers. Take for example meal times. Often, with limited numbers of staff, getting all residents into place at tables can take up to an hour. With the use of autonomous chairs, that process could be streamlined and staff would be able to focus on getting everyone their food!

Despite these potential positives, the most important factor to consider is the impact for the people who would use the autonomous wheelchairs, including feelings of autonomy and independence. Autonomous chairs must be designed in such a way that people are able to feel that they fully control the chair, and not that the chair is moving them of its own volition. This presents and interesting design challenge for technology developers (spoiler alert- our next blog series will look at accessible & inclusive design!)

An alternative to fully autonomous chairs is giving the driver the information that they need to safely operate their power wheelchair, while maintaining their full control over the chair. This can be done through the use of visual aids, including blind spot sensors to alert drivers to obstacles in their environment- check out the Braze Sentina for more information!

Public Health Agency of Canada. Report on seniors’ falls in Canada. 2005. http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/seniors-aines/alt-formats/pdf/publications/pro/injury-blessure/seniors_falls/seniors-falls_e.pdf.

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The Story of David's Sentina

David’s Sentina

11/19/2018

Long term care homes often face challenges with safety regarding power mobility devices. The high concentration of people who use power wheelchairs and people at high risk of injury from falls creates a challenge for therapists and staff to find solutions that maximize independence, while preventing undue risk to other residents.

Long-term care facility staff are often balancing the need to maximize the independence of residents with their safety. One resident, David, who drives a power wheelchair was struggling to navigate through the hallways and tight spaces at his facility. David has a friend who saw Braze Mobility present our product at the CNE Innovation Garage, and thought the Braze blind spot sensor system would help his friend navigate in his power wheelchair.

His occupational therapist agreed that the Braze system would be a big help to David. The facility purchased a Training Kit for the home and installed it on David’s chair, so he could demo the system, and see whether it would help him to navigate throughout the home. When the system was installed on the chair, David was able to know what was around him, and navigate through corridors. Maddie and Pooja from Braze Mobility traveled to the facility to see how the system helped, and David had some rave reviews.

“I like it, it helps me!” — David

Unfortunately for David, there were multiple other residents that the therapist thought could benefit from the system, and he had to return the Training Kit Sentina. The therapist and David began to look into options for getting his own unit funded, and after a short wait his device received 100% funding.

Braze and the therapist planned out a surprise for David, who was very excited to receive his Braze Sentina!

Braze Mobility would like to sincerely thank David for his enthusiasm and support for our products!!

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TTC Bus with the Braze Mobility branding on it

TTC vs. The World: Subway Transit Accessibility

08/23/2018

I recently saw an article on the accessibility of transit systems around the world, which was fascinating. The article is available here: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/sep/21/access-denied-disabled-metro-maps-versus-everyone-elses. It is good to see that transit commissions around the world are working towards a more accessible future (albeit slowly). The Toronto Transit Commission was left off of the list, so I decided to investigate. Being much newer than Paris and much less extensive than NYC, Toronto has a clear advantage in the ease of transforming their transit system to being 100% accessible. The following blog series will focus on the accessibility of the Toronto Transit Commission, where we are now, and how far we have to go to reach full accessibility.

TTC Subway Accessibility

The TTC has been making strides towards a fully accessible subway system, a goal which AODA requires is met by 2025. They boast on their website that 50% of stations are accessible. In addition, all subway cars are accessible, and able to be both wheeled onto and off of as well as with designated spots for wheelchairs to park on the trains.

So far, the accessible map of the TTC subway system looks like this:

Map of all accessible TTC subway stations

Many stops are accessible, which means they have elevator access, accessible fare gates, automatic sliding doors and are hubs for accessible busses and Wheel-Trans. These stations also include highly visible signage. All subway cars have accessible access, and each car has at least one designated wheelchair space.

Challenges with subway transit:

  • Elevators often malfunction or break, rendering “accessible” stations inaccessible.
  • Crowded trains may be difficult to navigate towards the designated accessible seating areas
  • Seats with blue covers are specifically for people with disabilities, and able-bodied people are required by law to vacate the seat if someone with a disability requires it. If the train is full, or if the people in the seat do not cooperate it is difficult to enforce this law

How the TTC is working towards solutions:

  • The TTC provides up-to-date status updates on elevator and escalator function. As per the TTC website, before you begin your subway trip call the TTC 24-hour Information Line at 416 393-4636 (INFO) and press 5 to confirm whether or not the elevators or escalators you plan to use on your trip are operating or scheduled for maintenance. Elevator information is also available at 416 539-5438 (LIFT) or on our Elevators and Escalators page.”
  • Posters alerting people that they must vacate seats for people with disabilities are now on most TTC subway trains.
  • Wheel-Trans vehicles are available to transport people who use wheelchairs to areas serviced by inaccessible stations.

What you can do to make transit easier via subway

  • Use a blind spot sensor system, such as the Braze Sentina to help navigate safely towards to accessible seating in crowded trains (watch this video to see the Braze Sentina used to navigate off of a city bus).
  • Ensure that you enter the subway car straight, not allowing front wheels to turn and get stuck in the gap
  • Advocate for yourself, and alert people to the laws requiring them to vacate seats if required
  • Plan ahead, and ensure elevators are running along the stops you need.

Thank you for reading this post. If you have ridden the TTC or other transit system subway and want to share your story, please contact me at madeleine.r@brazemobility.com, or leave a comment below!

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Image with icons depicting birthday cake, present, party hat, balloons and the accessibility symbol

Accessible Birthday Gift Ideas for People Who Use Wheelchairs!

07/04/2018

Finding the perfect gift is an art. It needs to be useful, unique and most importantly a personalized representation of your friendship. Choosing the right gift that your friend will actually use is challenging. Here is a list of ideas for gifts you can get for a friend who uses a wheelchair. For more ideas, check out our holiday gift guide here!

Gifts For Under $10

Cup Holder for wheelchairs ($8.95)

Show your friend you care by keeping them hydrated! This cup holder available on amazon.ca is a good low-cost option for your friends birthday! Consider ordering it ahead of time and decorating it with paint or stickers for that personalised touch!

Patches to decorate backpack or side pouches! (<$1 each)

Often, side pouches that are designed for use with a wheelchair are pretty boring (or an ideal backdrop for patches and pins!). You can find patches lots of different places on the internet, depending on what you are looking for. They are a low cost and highly personalised gift that symbolise important things in your friendship! Your friend can show their personality and friendship off to the world by rockin’ patches! If you are in Toronto, there is an entire expo dedicated to pins and patches on July 29!

Plan a day around the city ($0)

Who needs more things, really? Consider planning an entire day of fun exploring and doing all of your friend’s favourite things! This blog post has some ideas of things to do in Toronto if you need help brainstorming! To check how accessible places are during your planning, check out the AccessNow app or AccessTO!

Make a golf ball joystick handle! ($2)

You can use nail polish to decorate a golf ball, and drill a hole in the bottom to make a low-cost gift for your friend! Alternatively, you could design and 3D print a custom joystick handle if you are feeling creative!

Gifts for $10 – $50

Wheelchair gloves (~$20)

Find a cool pair of gloves for your friend! They don’t need to be specific for wheelchairs, try bike shops, sailing shops, outdoor rec stores, weight lifting equipment suppliers etc. Amazon.com has a wide selection of gloves that could be used for wheeling, such as these mesh gloves!

Accessible gifts for $50 – $100

Fleximug ($57.50)

This company makes mugs that are easy to drink hands free. The straws are positionable and come in various lengths, are dishwasher safe and leak proof!

Hands-free Umbrella (~$60 CAD)

Rehadesign makes the Rayne Shield, an umbrella with extra head room, that can be mounted hands-free using the “Brella Buddy”. You can buy both the umbrella and mount (~$100), or just the mount, which fits any standard long-handled umbrella.

Backpack (~$50)

If your friend tends to have a bunch of bags hanging on the back of their wheelchair, a backpack is a good option for a gift! You can find one with a cool design, or get them a plain backpack and find patches to sew on it! If they love to travel maybe get a patch from everywhere you go together, or if they like sports or TV shows, there’s patches for everything!

Joystick handle ($75-90)

Ergojoystick makes joystick handles that are designed to reduce the strain on a driver, especially those with arthritis or those who fatigue easily. Their designs also look pretty cool!

Hands-free iPad mount ($80+)

This company makes iPad mounts that can attach to wheelchairs and hold the device hands-free!

Shoes (~$70 CAD)

The new Nike Flyease shoes were designed to easily zip on and off. These shoes may have difficulty fitting over AFOs or fitting orthotics, making them not fully accessible. They are a step in the right direction though towards considering the abilities of everyone in design. They currently are unavailable on the Nike website.

Gifts for $100 plus

Braze Blind Spot Sensor Systems for Wheelchair users

The Braze Hydra and Sentina are innovative products that can turn any wheelchair into a ‘smart’ wheelchair (cars have sensors, why can’t wheelchairs?!). These add-on devices are the first in the world that easily attach to any wheelchair and offer visual, audio, and vibrational feedback to wheelchair users regarding location and proximity of obstacles. They provide the freedom of improved maneuverability, increased spatial awareness, and increased safety (see testimonial video at https://youtu.be/j0EtXYNW–Q).

TetraGear lights ($200-300 CAD)

Tetra gear makes lights that can be installed on wheelchairs to increase visibility of wheelchairs in style. As we discussed in this blog post, pedestrians who use wheelchairs are typically less visible to drivers, and adding lights can improve visibility! Give the gift of safety, to your friend! 

Wheel covers! (~$200 CAD)

Izzy Wheels makes artistic spoke covers for manual wheelchairs that are designed by top artists. Their motto is if you can’t stand up, stand out and these spoke guards will definitely help your friend to stand out! There are many different designs, so you can find one that matches your friends style!

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Braze Mobility with the three symbols depicting a pylon, accessibility, and not crashing

The Prevention of Wheelchair Collisions

07/01/2018

As we talked about in our previous blog post, wheelchair collisions are very common, and can be extremely costly. As a result, safety concerns are a major reason for limiting access to independent power mobility (Mihailidis et al., 2011). This is a problem, as access to power mobility increases independence and quality of life by enabling people to interact with their surroundings (Bourret et al., 2002). The goal of anyone who prescribes or operates a power mobility device is to limit the risks while ensuring the device continues to provide maximum independence and mobility.

All strategies from this article are intended as ideas only, and should not replace the advice of a healthcare practitioner. If you are feel that some of these ideas could work for you, start a conversation with your therapist or doctor about ways you can reduce risk in driving! I would love to hear from you, about ways you have limited risks! Please comment below, or email me at madeleine.r@brazemobility.com!

  1. Have rules of the road or hallway

In areas with many power wheelchair users, it is important that people’s actions are predictable to avoid collisions. Creating some rules of the hallways can ensure that safety is maintained. It could also be a great way to build community and trust between residents of a facility. If you are concerned about safety within your institution, consider gathering people to discuss some “traffic laws” that would make everyone living in the facility feel safer, including both wheelchair users and non-wheelchair users. This may include sectioning off the hallways into lanes, so people going one way stay on the right hand side and those going the opposite directions go on the left. Ensuring hallways are clear can also improve safety, as drivers will not be required to swerve or dodge to avoid collisions.

  1. Timing of power wheelchair use

Some medications may interact with driving ability, increasing reaction times and risk of collision. If this is the case, rather than removing access to power mobility completely, track exactly how long after taking medication symptoms are onset, and consider reducing power mobility use at those times until the effects of the medication are worn off**. If you notice that a certain medication makes you feel less alert, consider talking to your doctor about ways you can reduce the impact of the medication on your driving. If fatigue is experienced at certain times of day, consider reducing the use of your power wheelchair, or the speed with which the chair is used at those times, to ensure that drowsiness does not result in accidents.

**Always consult your therapist and/or doctor if unsure about the safety of wheelchair operation or effects of medication.

  1. Eliminating barriers

Navigating in a power chair in an enclosed space is very difficult, especially if there are multiple hazards in the way. This can be more difficult if the hazards are low to the ground, making them much more difficult to see, especially if they are behind the user. Where barriers cannot be eliminated, ensure that there is adequate lighting, or warning so that power wheelchair drivers have enough time to plan an avoidance route.

  1. Increasing spatial awareness of the user through blind spot sensors

Seeing what is behind you without any sort of aid is difficult- driving a car with no mirrors or backup camera is unthinkable! Why are wheelchair users expected to drive without any sort of feedback? Braze Mobility makes blind spot sensors that provide 180 degrees of rear-view coverage, providing the user with feedback about obstacles in their environment. Other visual aids are also a possible solution to this problem- for a comparison of visual aids for wheelchair users, click here!

  1. Wheelchair design

The most common type of wheelchair accident, for both manual and power users was found by Gaal et. al (1997) to be tips and falls. This group recommends changing wheelchair design to prevent tips and falls, such as lowering the centre of mass closer to the ground, adding castor wheels and modifying the suspension of the chair to accommodate bumps. Additionally, being careful on curbs and around objects that could result in a chair tip is a way you can avoid tips without modifying your chair.

6. Self-driving wheelchairs

In the future, self driving wheelchairs will likely begin to emerge onto the market. These chairs will be useful for avoiding collisions, and increasing access to power mobility for those who may otherwise be excluded for any reason. The high cost and low reliability of self-driving technology is currently preventing any fully autonomous smart wheelchair technology from being available on the market (Viswanathan et. al, 2017).

References:

Bourret, E. M., Bernick, L. G., Cott, C. A., and Kontos, P. C. (2002). The meaning of mobility for residents and staff in long-term care facilities. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 37(4), 338–345. http://doi.org/10.1046/j.1365-2648.2002.02104.x.

Gaal, R. P., Rebholtz, N., Hotchkiss, R. D., & Pfaelzer, P. F. (1997). Wheelchair rider injuries: causes and consequences for wheelchair design and selection. Journal of rehabilitation research and development34(1), 58.

Mihailidis, A., Wang, R., Dutta, T.& Fernie, G. (2011). Usability testing of multimodal feedback interface and simulated collision-avoidance power wheelchair for long-term-care home residents with cognitive impairments. Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development48(7), 801.

Viswanathan, P., Simpson, R. C., Foley, G., Sutcliffe, A., & Bell, J. (2017). Smart wheelchairs for assessment and mobility. In Robotic Assistive Technologies (pp. 161-194). CRC Press.

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Braze Mobility image of the City of Toronto Skyline

Accessible things to do in Toronto this summer!

06/09/2018

The summer is finally upon us, and it is time to embrace the sunshine and check out all the fun things there are to do in your city! It’s my first summer in Toronto, and I am determined to be as thorough of a tourist as possible. I have been brainstorming fun things to do, and thought I’d share some ideas. I would love to hear from you, about your favourite things to do and see!

Before we get started, check out some sites that track accessible locations in the city to ensure nothing gets in the way of your plans.  AccessTO is a great resource that can be used to determine if a place is accessible! And download the AccessNow app, for on-the-go information about accessibility!

Go for a sail- Anchors away! The Disabled Sailing Association of Toronto can offers adaptable sailing to members and non members. A great way to get out of the hustle and bustle of the city, and learn a new skill! An annual membership costs $50. Members pay only $15, non-members $30 for an hour and a half of sailing.

Hit the beach- Both Woodbine Beach and the Centre Island Beach have water wheelchairs available for rent, and mats out to the water! Find out more on the City of Toronto website. Pack a picnic, slap on some sunscreen and enjoy the sunshine (we deserve it after that winter we just had!)

Climb the CN tower– Accessibility information for the CN tower is available here. The views are spectacular, especially on a clear day! If you live in Toronto and have never been up the tower, maybe make this summer the one you finally cave in and climb the iconic landmark to see if the views live up to all the hype! If you’re a tourist, you can’t miss it.

Check out the ROM- Accessibility information is available here for the ROM. Friday nights at the ROM until the end of the month feature Friday Night Live for adults. Each week has a theme, with live music and general good times. If you aren’t into that, the general museum is a must-see anyways! Check out the featured fashion exhibit!

Explore a brewery- As the weather heats up a nice cold beer on a patio is a great way to spend a few hours. Craft breweries have been sprouting up everywhere, and Toronto is no exception. If you and your friends like beer, consider organising a beer tasting tour around Toronto, hitting a different brewery each weekend and ranking your favourites! Check AccessTO for a list of accessible breweries.

Embrace the soccer fever with a TFC game!- While Canada always seems to be slightly excluded from the World Cup, with Toronto being such an diverse city the soccer fever will be intense this summer! Catch a TFC game at the accessible BMO field, to get in on the party!

Cheer on some other teams- If soccer isn’t your thing, Toronto has other options! Catch a Jays game at the accessible Rogers Center or a Rugby game with the new Toronto Wolfpack at the Lamport Stadium!

Shakespeareit up in the park Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Get classy and enjoy the theatre at Shakespeare in High Park. Bring a picnic, and spend some time in the sun with the Bard. If you call ahead, there are accessible seats available.

All of these places are accessible by transit. If you find the TTC difficult to manoeuvre, check out the Braze Sentina, which provides 180 degrees of rear-view blind spot coverage, making backing onto and off of busses, streetcars and subways much easier!

**I don’t use a wheelchair, so I relied on AccessTO and the destination’s website to determine which areas are accessible. If you have any suggestions or changes, please comment or email me at madeleine.r@brazemobility.com**

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Braze Mobility image with trees, buildings and the centre of the accessibility symbol

Wheelchair Safety Tips for Driving on Roads

06/05/2018

Upon investigating the prevalence of wheelchair collisions, the amount of vehicle collisions with pedestrians using wheelchairs was shocking. According to Kraemer & Benton (2015), people who use wheelchairs are 36% more likely to die in a collision with a vehicle than other pedestrians. Fatal vehicle accidents took the lives of sixty wheelchair users in the United States in 2009 (LaBan & Nabity, 2010). This tragic statistic makes it clear the need for improved road safety for wheelchair users. Here are some ideas of ways to improve safety for navigating roads in a wheelchair.

1. Increase Visibility

The reason for the increased risk for pedestrians who use wheelchairs is speculated by Reuters (2015) to be due to decreased visibility of wheelchairs. This is supported by LaBan & Nabity (2010), who found that accidents between motor vehicles and wheelchairs were most likely to occur between dawn and dusk. Here are some easy (and low cost!) ways you can increase the visibility of your wheelchair:

Flag

Sitting in a wheelchair may place you out of the field of view of car drivers, increasing your risk of being in a collision. You can increase your visibility by using a flag that sticks up from your chair. This is a very low cost solution. But be aware- these flags typically attach to the backrest of the chair, which makes them visible only when you are fully in the driver’s field of view.

Lights

Lights can be added to your chair when ordering, or can be added after. They can be expensive when purchased from wheelchair manufacturers, however low-cost stick on lights can be added. Tetra Gear offers light attachments designed specifically to increase visibility in wheelchairs . Alternatively, you can check out your local dollar store or hardware store for lights to attach to your wheelchair if you are feeling creative!

Reflective Gear

Reflective gear may not be the highest fashion option, but safety is way cooler than fashion any day! When driving at night in areas you know aren’t well lit, you could use reflective vests or jackets, or attach reflective decals to your chair.

Make eye contact with car drivers before you cross the road

No matter how visible your chair may seem, drivers of cars may not be paying attention, or looking for wheelchairs. When crossing the road, try taking an extra second to make eye contact with the driver of the car to ensure that they see you. When in doubt, wait for the car to pass (and give them a shaming look for failing to look out for wheelchairs!)

2. Follow all Traffic Laws

Anyone who uses a mobility device, including wheelchairs and mobility scooters must follow all laws for pedestrians under the Highway Traffic Act in Ontario. This includes driving on a sidewalk wherever possible, and returning to the sidewalk as soon as possible when no sidewalk is available. When driving on the road, you must drive facing oncoming traffic, on the left hand shoulder of the roadway. Jaywheeling is both illegal and dangerous. The extra 5 minutes that it takes to get to a crosswalk is worth it to stay safe!

Unfortunately, following the law is not a guarantee of safety. 47.6% of fatal collisions between cars and wheelchairs occurred in intersections, with 47.5% of pedestrians in wheelchairs using a crosswalk at the time of collision and 18.3% had no crosswalk available (Kraemer & Benton, 2015). In all of these cases, the pedestrian was likely following the law. Be cautious at all times

3. Be Prepared!

20% of collisions between wheelchairs and cars in 2009 were hit and runs (LaBan & Nabity, 2010). Make sure that you have access to a phone, and can call for help in case of an accident. If accessing your phone is difficult, check out the Tecla, which allows you to control a phone using an alternative access switch or wheelchair controller.

Plan ahead

This can include making sure that your battery is fully charged, or planning to use public transit or an alternative route in areas without sidewalks.

Proper maintenance

Ensure that your chair is maintained properly to avoid preventable accidents, such as from faulty breaks or batteries. If something doesn’t seem right on your chair, have someone look at it. Trust your intuition, no one knows your chair better than you! 

4. Be aware of your surroundings

In busy areas, it is important to know exactly what is going on around you to prevent being hit yourself, or running someone over. Most wheelchairs have large blind spots that can be difficult to monitor, especially in crowded areas. Braze Mobility makes a blind spot sensor system that monitors what is happening in your blind spots and makes navigating in tight spaces easier. For more information, click here!

Safe driving tips for wheelchair users on the road, road safety for wheelchairs, wheelchair safety.

Thanks for joining us! If you have any safe driving tips that you think we missed, please comment below! Stay safe out there!

Sources:

Kraemer, J. D., & Benton, C. S. (2015). Disparities in road crash mortality among pedestrians using wheelchairs in the USA: results of a capture–recapture analysis. BMJ open, 5(11), e008396.

LaBan, M. M., & Nabity Jr, T. S. (2010). Traffic collisions between electric mobility devices (wheelchairs) and motor vehicles: Accidents, hubris, or self-destructive behavior?. American journal of physical medicine & rehabilitation, 89(7), 557-560.

Rapaport, L. (2015) Wheelchair users More likely to die in car crashes. Reuters.

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Braze Mobility with the three symbols depicting a pylon, accessibility, and not crashing

The Prevalence of Wheelchair Collisions

05/28/2018

Recently, I took a power wheelchair for a test drive through downtown Toronto, Ontario. Within a two hour period, I had hit at least 2 doorways, and narrowly missed the ankles of more than one person with my footrests (thankfully being Canadian they jumped out of the way of my rampaging chair with a cheerful “sorry”). This experience made it very clear the challenges associated with driving a power wheelchair- especially in a tight space. The following blog series will focus on the danger associated with operating power mobility devices, and how we can reduce that danger and improve access to power wheelchairs.

It is important to understand the risks associated with power wheelchair use in order to find ways to minimise risks while maximising the independence of users. It is, however, difficult to measure the prevalence of collisions incurred by power wheelchair users. Statistics are difficult to obtain, as there is no central reporting centre for power wheelchair accidents. There are some research studies that have been done to evaluate the incidence of collisions for power wheelchair users.

Many of these studies are focused on the use of power mobility devices in an institutional setting. Here is a brief summary of the results of some of these studies:

  • Frank et al. (2000) found that within 4 months of receiving a power mobility device, 13%  (15 out of 113) of people surveyed reported at least one accident, including tipping from chairs and falls during transfers.
  • Mortenson et al. (2005) report that The Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) residential facility which has 82 residents using power wheelchairs, reported 16 incidents of property damage in one year from power wheelchair use. This is a conservative estimate, as the author notes that only serious accidents were reported. There were likely far more minor incidents that were not reported.
  • Reed, Yochum and Schloss (1993) reported that 30% of long-term care residents surveyed felt that other drivers within the facility drove unsafely.

Clearly, within an institutional setting, many power wheelchair users have difficulty safely navigating their environment. In such institutions, there is a very high density of power wheelchair users, along with narrow corridors and many obstructions in hallways which present challenges to drivers. One major factor identified as contributing to decreased safety in high density areas is a lack of conformity between drivers. Mortenson et al. (2005) write that a lack of driving rules for wheelchair drivers in an institution can result in animosity between and towards power wheelchair drivers. For example, not designating a regulated side of the hallway to drive on increases the likelihood of collision and creates an atmosphere of blame and animosity towards power wheelchair drivers (Mortenson et al., 2005).

Measuring statistics only in institutions provides an incomplete view of the magnitude of the prevalence of collisions among power mobility device users. Many wheelchair users that live in the community also suffer accidents, and when navigating through traffic the consequences can be catastrophic. Mortenson et al. (2005) found that six out of ten interviewed power wheelchair drivers report that driving in the community is more difficult than diving in an institution. A survey of wheelchair users by Arthanat et al. (2009) found that the usability of power wheelchairs in the community is low. 40-50% of those surveyed reporting that usability was moderate to very low in the community. The difficulty in navigating in the community with a power wheelchair has been observed by multiple surveys.

  • Navigating a wheelchair in traffic is a large hazard of navigating within the community. LaBan & Nabity (2010) found that sixty fatal accidents occurred between a motorized vehicle and a wheelchair in one year. Of these accidents, 94% involved a power wheelchair.
  • Chen et al. (2011) surveyed 95 active community wheelchair users about the number of collisions experienced. 52 (54.7%) of wheelchair users reported experiencing at least one collision, and 16 (16.8%) reported experiencing 2 or more collisions within a three year period.
  • A report from Edwards and McClusky (2010) of Australian power mobility device users found that one-fifth of respondents (21%) reported having an accident in the previous year when using their device. The most commonly reported accidents were caused by running into doors and walls, the device tipping over, being hit by a car or knocking into/over objects such as shop displays.
  • Arthanat et al. (2009) found that 52.8% of wheelchair users surveyed had experienced at least one accident (collision or fall) that resulted in injury.

Clearly, the issue of accidents in power wheelchair driving is prevalent. It is important to start a conversation regarding the risks and rewards of power wheelchair use! If you have experienced a collision in your power wheelchair, or know someone who has, leave a comment!

Want to learn more about what Smart Wheelchairs can do to prevent wheelchair collisions? Download our FREE E-Book on Smart Wheelchair Technology!

Works cited.

Arthanat, S., Nochajski, S. M., Lenker, J. A., Bauer, S. M., & Wu, Y. W. B. (2009). Measuring usability of assistive technology from a multicontextual perspective: the case of power wheelchairs. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 63(6), 751.

Chen, W. Y., Jang, Y., Wang, J. D., Huang, W. N., Chang, C. C., Mao, H. F., & Wang, Y. H. (2011). Wheelchair-related accidents: relationship with wheelchair-using behavior in active community wheelchair users. Archives of physical medicine and rehabilitation, 92(6), 892-898.

Edwards, K., & McCluskey, A. (2010). A survey of adult power wheelchair and scooter users. Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology, 5(6), 411-419.

Frank AO, Ward J, Orwell NJ, McCullagh C, Belcher M. Introduction of a new NHS electric powered indoor/outdoor chair (EPIOC) service: benefits, risks and implications for prescribers. Clinical Rehabilitation. 2000;14:665–673. [PubMed]

Mortenson, W. B., Miller, W. C., Boily, J., Steele, B., Odell, L., Crawford, E. M., & Desharnais, G. (2005). Perceptions of power mobility use and safety within residential facilities. Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 72(3), 142-152.

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