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Image with the words Autonomous Wheelchairs

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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‘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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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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