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 firstname.lastname@example.org!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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).
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 development, 34(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 Development, 48(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.