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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.

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.

The Benefits Of Automated Mobility

There are many potential benefits to autonomous power mobility. Power wheelchair accidents are common 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!

Autonomous Wheelchairs Encourage Independent Mobility

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 for wheelchairs, including blind spot sensors to alert drivers to obstacles in their environment- check out the Braze Sentina for more information!

Reference

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 transit accessibility around the world, which was fascinating. 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 (TTC), where we are now, and how far we have to go to reach full accessibility.

Transit Accessibility in Toronto

The TTC has been making strides towards a fully accessible subway system, a goal which Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) requires is met by 2025. They boast on their website that over 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 Toronto’s Transit Accessibility

  • 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 or 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 us at info@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 Holders for Wheelchairs

Show your friend you care by keeping them hydrated! This cup holder available on Amazon 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)

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 personalized gift that symbolize 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!

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 has a wide selection of gloves that could be used for wheeling, such as these mesh gloves!

Accessible gifts for $50 – $100

Fleximug ($79.95)

Fleximug 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)

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 (>$70)

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)

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

Shoes (~$70)

The Nike Flyease shoes were designed to easily zip on and off. These shoes may have difficulty fitting over AFOs or fitting orthotics, making them 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 Sensors 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.

TetraGear Lights ($200-$300)

TetraGear makes lights that can be installed on wheelchairs to increase visibility of wheelchairs in style. As we discussed, 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)

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

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, so please comment below or email us at info@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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 things to do in Toronto 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 Royal Ontario Museum (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 organizing 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 Toronto FC (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!

Shakespeare-It-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 accessible things to do in Toronto. If you have any suggestions or changes, please comment or email us at info@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. Additionally, reportedly in 2009, fatal vehicle accidents took the lives of 60 wheelchair users in the United States. 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 Your 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.

Use a 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.

Install 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!

Wear 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. Approximately 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

In 2009, 20% of collisions between wheelchairs and cars 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 of Time

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.

Properly Maintain your Wheelchair

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.

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!

References

  • 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”), avoiding any wheelchair collisions while power wheelchair driving.

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 minimize risks while maximizing 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.

Statistics of Wheelchair Collisions for Power Mobility Devices

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.

Challenges with Power Wheelchair Driving and Drivers

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).

Challenges Of Wheelchair Navigation for Power Wheelchairs

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.

Survey of Power Wheelchair Useability

A survey of wheelchair users by Arthanat et al. (2009) found that the usability of power wheelchairs in the community is low. About 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!

References

  • 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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Image with the words Pros & Cons and three symbols and words depicting Rear View Cameras, Mirrors and Sensor Systems

Visual Aids for People Who Use Wheelchairs

05/21/2018

Most people who operate any sort of motorized vehicle have aids to help them see what is going on around them. Mirrors, cameras and sensors are commonly used to help people when driving cars. So, what about people who drive wheelchairs? There are various visual aids for wheelchair users, which provide information about what is going on in blind spots. This blog will discuss the pros and cons of these solutions.

Photo of Pooja kneeling beside a power wheelchair with the Braze Mobility Sentina sensors installed
Braze Mobility’s CEO, Pooja Viswanathan, posing with the early model of the Braze system, the world’s first blind spot sensors for wheelchairs.

Backup Cameras for Wheelchair Users

Backup cameras are popular visual aids for wheelchair users to get information about what is behind them. Cameras designed for attachment to trailer hitches and license plates can be adapted for wheelchair users and attached to the back of a chair. These devices typically relay video information to the driver on a smartphone or tablet. This requires the wheelchair user to mount their phone/ tablet in an easily visible location.

Pros of Backup Cameras

  • Cameras are useful when driving outside or in large spaces, especially when operating a wheelchair safely on roads or in busy traffic areas.
  • They are good at allowing the user to track objects such as cars or pedestrians moving through their field of view.
  • These systems are fairly low cost, and take advantage of technology the user already owns by using a tablet/smartphone to relay information.
  • Many aftermarket backup camera products are magnetic, making installation on a wheelchair easy.

Cons of Backup Cameras

  • For drivers with low vision, video is ineffective at relaying information.
  • It also may be distracting to monitor a video screen when driving.
  • A tablet/smartphone large enough to clearly view will block the driver’s forward facing vision, creating another blindspot for the driver.
  • Navigating indoors using a camera may be difficult, due to difficulty differentiating between objects and walls on the screen.
  • Adequate lighting is required to make video feedback worthwhile.
  • If using a smartphone for video relay, the driver is unable to use their smartphone for other tasks while driving, such as DJing that perfect playlist!
  • Mounts for these cameras aren’t designed for wheelchairs, and may be difficult to mount.

Rear-View Mirrors

Rear-view mirrors are low-tech visual aids for wheelchair users that provides the user with instantaneous feedback regarding their environment.

Pros of Rear-View Mirrors

Cons of Rear-View Mirrors

  • In order for the mirror to be effective, it must be positioned in a very specific way, which may be an inconvenient position for the driver.
  • Mirrors are also bulky to catch a large enough frame of view, which will create an additional blindspot for drivers.
  • Mirrors don’t provide exact location information about objects. “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear” may be okay when on the roads, but inside a house it is important to know exactly how close you are to an object/wall.
  • Adequate lighting is required to make feedback useful from a mirror.
  • Mirrors have a small range of vision, so drivers will still have blind spots they can’t monitor.

Sensor Systems

GIF of Braze Sentina blind spot sensors providing visual, audio, and vibrational feedback when detecting an object.
Braze Mobility’s blind spot sensors provide multi-modal feedback using lights, vibrations, and sound.

Sensor systems are new to the market, and provide wheelchair users with information about objects in their environment. Sensors detect objects and obstacles, and that information is fed back to the user through different modalities. For example, Braze Mobility offers blind spot sensor systems that provide up to 180 degrees of rear-view blind spot coverage, and customizable 45 degrees of coverage. This information can be relayed through vibration, visual or audio feedback.

Pros of Sensor Systems

  • Customisable coverage makes it possible to monitor multiple blind spots at once. This means that people with decreased peripheral vision can easily monitor both side and rear view blind spots.
  • Coverage area of sensors is much higher than mirrors and video.
  • People with vision impairments are able to interpret feedback easily using either vibration or audio feedback.
  • The device was designed to not block vision in any way.
  • The device was designed for wheelchair use, and can be easily installed on any wheelchair.
  • The device is powered via a USB power bank, and therefore can easily be charged. One charge can last all day, due to the very low power requirements of the device.
  • Ultrasonic sensors do not rely on proper lighting to provide the user with feedback.
  • Feedback from the device splits the rear view vision into three distinct areas. This makes navigating in tight spaces and through doorways easier.
Close up photo of Braze's Sentina blind spot sensors attached to the rear of a wheelchair.

Cons of Sensor Systems

  • Feedback does not provide information about what is in your blind spot, but just that there is something there.
  • The cost of an ultrasonic sensor system designed for wheelchair use is higher than the cost of a mirror, or rear view camera designed for a car.

Self-Driving Wheelchairs

Self driving cars are beginning to drive themselves into the market, and wheelchairs might not be too far behind! Currently, self driving chairs are not available commercially, however they are being used in research studies. 

Pros of Self-Driving Wheelchairs

  • Self driving chairs will reduce barriers to accessing power mobility devices. People with low vision, decreased cognition or other reason for being denied access to power mobility may be able to operate a self-driving chair.
  • Self-driving chairs will likely be safer than regular power mobility devices, due to a lack of blind spots.

Cons of Self-Driving Wheelchairs

  • These chairs will likely be extremely expensive.
  • Depending on the level of control of the driver versus the chair, self driving wheelchairs may decrease the autonomy of the driver.

Do you have experience with any of these feedback methods? We’d love to hear about your experience and your opinion! Comment below to start the conversation!

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