The Braze Mobility Blog

 

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Where can Canadians find information about funding programs for assistive technology?

12/18/2023

Assistive technology can be a universal enabler. Assistive technology can help people of all ages living with different disabilities to perform daily activities in their homes and communities. These technologies may be called assistive aids, devices, or products, durable medical equipment, or disability supports. Common examples include grab bars, walkers, wheelchairs, hearing or low vision aids, or medication reminders. Smartphones, tablet computers, and mobile applications are often included as well.

Canadians who may benefit from various assistive technologies may not have access to what they need. While the cost of the technologies is often a barrier to access and use, many Canadians may not know what technologies are available to help, where to find out information about the technologies, and how to acquire them. The numerous programs offered by governments and charities, and the complicated rules and procedures for each program also make it difficult for Canadians to acquire what they need.

The website AccessATCanada (https://www.accessassistivetech.ca/) was designed to help Canadians find information about funding programs for assistive technology. The website was based on research by Dr. Rosalie Wang at the University of Toronto and Dr. Michael Wilson from the McMaster Health Forum, and funded by AGE-WELL. It was created to be a central access point for people who use assistive technology and those who support people to access assistive technology such as health care providers or care partners. Anyone can search the database with over 200 government and charity programs that provide funding and services for assistive technology. The programs cover assistive technology to assist with mobility, sensory (vision or hearing), communication, cognitive, or mental health concerns and include national and provincial or territorial programs (current as of Summer 2020). The creators are looking for additional funding and resources to help maintain and update the website. If you are interested in helping out, please fill out your contact information below.

About the Guest Author: Rosalie Wang, Ph.D., OT Reg. (Ont.) is an associate professor in the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy at the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on developing, evaluating, and implementing technology to enable daily activity participation and social inclusion of seniors and people with disabilities. As an AGE-WELL investigator, she co-led a national project on enhancing equitable access to assistive technologies.

References

Other article link: http://publications.rehabmagazine.ca/publication/?m=1929&i=664629&view=articleBrowser&article_id=3703754&ver=html5 

Usability testing of the website: https://formative.jmir.org/2022/11/e36949

Jurisdictional scan (data): https://agewell-nce.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/age-well_jurisdictional-scan_2017_June-30_FINAL.pdf

Overview of research: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/08404704221113742

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Travel Smartly with Mobility: This Holiday Season, We are Going Places!

11/27/2023

Learn all about how you can travel smartly with mobility this holiday season.

Traveling has always been an option for people through various modes of transportation, such as trains, planes, cars, buses, and public transit. In order to travel smartly with mobility, we must first understand what are the things that often stand in the way. Let’s talk about some of the common accessibility challenges for individuals with mobility needs when traveling.

Inclusive facilities:

Facilities around the world are required by law to meet local accessibility standards; however, not all the latest standards meet the actual needs of mobility users sufficiently. While some hotels and motels have wheelchair accessible rooms and bathrooms, as well as accessible parking spaces and entrances, other accommodations may be overlooked. Examples include visual cues for texture, depth, inclination, and elevation changes. Some facilities may lack updated accommodation and inclusion standards, such as wheelchair ramps, elevators, universal signage, or alternative methods of communications (Braille, voice commands, etc.). Refer to reviews, ratings, and pictures of the facilities as second opinions when selecting for the most inclusive facilities to visit.

Mobility traveler-friendly traveling methods:

The mode of transportation itself may pose barriers for individuals who use wheelchairs. Airlines may mishandle wheelchairs, leading to damage. Narrow spaces, like tunnels and tubes from the platform to the plane during boarding and vice versa, can be hard to navigate.

Most traditional escalators are not designed for wheelchair drivers to self navigate. Trips and falls on those escalators are be extremely dangerous. Always use the elevator if possible. And be extremely cautious with taking the escalators in wheelchairs. For even when it seems like the escalators are just wide enough for the device to fit, always remember that your device needs enough leeway to move around as it enters a surface in constant motion.

Mobility-friendly Restrooms:

A picture overview of the tiny common airplane toilet that is too tight for mobility users to navigate and use.

Restrooms on trains and airplanes may require navigating through narrow hallways and have too tight of a space inside for mobility users to move around. Wide-body airplanes tend to be a better option accessibility-wise since they provide more toilet and aisle spaces. Some airlines also have more accommodations than others. Uniform airport designs that lack in accessible signage can also make restroom identification difficult. Navigating crowded areas to reach restrooms can also be challenging.

Mobility device arrangements during travel:

Similar to baggage and luggage, mobility devices need to be stored with care for proper protection when in transit. In fact, scratches and bumps to mobility devices can easily cause more serious function-related damages that can singlehandedly hinder the rest of the trip. Avoiding unwanted surprises, make sure you are aware of the best storage option for your devices in transit as well as the related local regulations ahead of boarding time to make the necessary arrangements for assistance. Consider using tagging technology (e.g. AirTag) to help track your mobility device in the event that it is lost or misplaced in transit.

Emergencies:

Emergency exits and evacuation routes can be hard to find in large busy places like airports and train stations. Individual mobility users can face difficulties accessing oxygen masks and inflatable slides during emergencies. Consider traveling during less crowded hours or days for less hassled environments.

Travel smartly with mobility:

  1. Plan in advance: Contact the transit companies for more accessibility-related information so you can make more informed choices on which airline/train/bus to book tickets from.
  2. Label Appropriately: Label mobility devices and associated adaptive devices for careful handling. Use bright colors for attention.
  3. Track your device: Tracking technology can help with locating lost or misplaced mobility devices.
  4. Arrive Earlier: Arriving early is always a good choice when traveling. It gives you more time to navigate the check-ins and baggage areas with ease.
  5. Legislation and Rights: Google local traveling legislation on accessibility and visitor’s rights. Remember to take photos/videos to document the devices’ condition before checking your devices in with third party caretakers during transit.

The above solutions for individual mobility users alone are not sufficient. We firmly believe in the transformative power of collective change. We need to raise awareness of the above challenges faced by mobility travelers nowadays so that everyone can understand the crucial role accessibility plays in making essential transit facilities truly inclusive around the world.

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A young woman with a big smile in wheelchair outdoor looking beyond the frame.

Look Beyond the Price Tags: Making Smart Mobility Purchases Using Essential Buyer Awareness

10/22/2023
An elderly lady with fully white hair in wheelchair giving a thumbs up to her care giver standing next to her. Both smiling at each other.

You’ve probably heard the saying “buyer beware” before. It’s that feeling you get when you’re shopping for something, like clothes. You start thinking about the occasion, the weather, and whether it’s the right color for the season. You also wonder how long you can wear it comfortably. But no matter how much you think things through, sometimes things just don’t turn out as expected, and you end up feeling like you made the wrong choice. And this common struggle with sufficient buyer awareness becomes especially relevant and impactful when it comes to the mobility device market. It cannot and should not be the end users’ sole responsibility to try and figure it all out. And Braze is here to help every end user who may feel lost with all the essential information they should look out for when shopping for mobility devices.

Adaptive and assistive technology can really change the game for people who use wheelchairs, making a big difference in their quality of life, independence, and mobility. This blog isn’t about saying, “be careful, you’ll run into problems no matter what.” Instead, it’s shedding light on the often overlooked value with proactive measures that can be taken to boost buyer awareness in order to make informed choices that best serve the buyer’s interest.

And the first step to optimizing buyer awareness is asking the right questions to best understand your options, just in case you face issues with your wheelchair or other assistive devices. When you’re getting a wheelchair, it’s important to ask the right questions to make sure it’s the right fit for your needs and preferences.

Navigating Wheelchair Adaptations and Considerations

White puzzles with one empty slot where a blue puzzle piece with wheelchair icon in white held by a hand to be in the motion of fitting inside of that slot.


Which wheelchair are you using?

If it’s a manual wheelchair, you need to be cautious about adding certain extras because there might not be enough space for them. For instance, you can attach backpacks or oxygen tanks to the wheelchair, but there might not be room for other assistive and adaptive devices. On the other hand, if you have a power wheelchair, there’s generally more space on the base and around it, allowing you to add more adaptive and assistive devices as needed.

How can you adjust your wheelchair?

Some wheelchairs are designed to tilt or stand, while others can lean forward and backward. When you’re looking for assistive and adaptive devices, you have to consider where you can mount them safely without causing any damage due to the wheelchair’s movements.

What’s the weight limit of your wheelchair?

This is crucial for safety. If you only use the wheelchair for your own mobility, it’s pretty straightforward. But if you have oxygen tanks, backpacks, additional medical equipment, or any assistive and adaptive devices, they can quickly add to the weight. This extra weight might affect how easily your wheelchair moves and turns.

Do you have a warranty or insurance?

If you do, it’s essential to know the duration and what it covers. This information is vital in case your wheelchair gets damaged from regular wear and tear or due to the addition of adaptive and assistive devices and medical equipment.

Assessing Wheelchair Technology Compatibility

Men in suit sitting on the further side of the table speaking to the men in shirt sitting in a wheelchair across.

1. Is your wheelchair tech-friendly?

  • Do you know if your wheelchair can work with modern technology, or if it would work better with newer technology? It’s crucial to understand your mobility goals and find user-friendly tech that fits those goals. Think about compatibility for safety and financial reasons. Tech that doesn’t match your wheelchair might be risky, and you wouldn’t want the hassle of returning or replacing it.

2. Is wheelchair tech user-friendly?

  • Are you familiar with the tech or need some training? Consider your comfort level. How long will it take to get the hang of using this technology? Is customer support available when you need it? Can you connect with other users to learn from their experiences? These factors play a role in your confidence and safety using the technology.

3. Is wheelchair tech accessible and affordable?

  • Do you know if there’s any financial help to get the tech you need? Be aware of alternatives if you can’t get funding. Also, find out if there are upcoming upgrades for the technology. If it’s necessary, you might have to buy it right away. But if you have a temporary solution, waiting for an improved version could be worthwhile.

4. Can you test the tech before buying?

  • When picking technology for your mobility device, it’s not just about whether it fits the device; it’s also about whether it fits you. So, find out if you can try the tech before purchasing it. This can help you gauge how you feel about using it – whether it’s safe, easy, or tricky to handle.

Selecting with Awareness for the Optimal Mobility Solutions

As you can see, there are many things to be aware of when it comes to buying mobility devices that are the best fit for your specific circumstances. To be an informed buyer, you should ask the manufacturer of your wheelchair, the makers of the adaptive/assistive devices, vendors, assistive technology professionals (ATP), clinicians, and fellow wheelchair users:

A wheelchair and mobility devices showroom with carpet floor and white ceiling.

1. Who Covers Damages?

  • Does the wheelchair manufacturer handle damages to the wheelchair, or is it the adaptive/assistive device manufacturer’s responsibility? Maybe the vendor, ATP, or clinician can help. It’s essential to know who can assist you if you encounter any issues with your wheelchair or technology-related adaptive/assistive device.

2. Which is the Best Fit for Me?

  • After you’ve shared your mobility needs, strengths, and goals with these professionals, you can ask them whether a particular wheelchair or technological assistive/adaptive device is a good match for you. If it’s not, find out how you can customize it to better suit your needs.

3. Do the Second Opinions Check Out?

  • There are various events and online groups related to mobility where you can get advice and insights. These gatherings may have researchers who can answer questions like how a specific wheelchair or technological assistive/adaptive device was developed, considering factors like the user’s needs, the environment, past and future technologies, and any identified issues that could affect users and society.

The A5 Method Plan

Quick Tips text box popping out of a phone with Braze Mobility checklist held in the hand of a wheelchair user.

First and foremost, a big congratulations for making it this far. You are already more informed as a buyer! And to celebrate that, here is the A5 Method Plan, designed by Braze just for you, that summarizes the five essential steps to follow for cultivating the necessary buyer awareness around mobility devices and related technological adaptive and assistive products over time:

  1. Assess – Figure out your mobility needs, strengths, and goals.
  2. Advocate – Make your needs and goals clear.
  3. Advice – Seek advice from healthcare professionals, family, accommodation experts, vendors, manufacturers, and fellow mobility device users.
  4. Analyze – Try out products and make informed choices before buying.
  5. Approve – Buy with confidence and peace of mind, knowing you’ve followed all the necessary steps!

Whether you’re curious to learn more about buyer awareness in general or eager to get the help necessary to start making informed decisions about your mobility devices right away, enter your email below to get your own handy A5 Checklist!

Let’s work together to ensure your mobility needs, strengths, and goals are met, and you can confidently approve your choices with peace of mind. Your journey begins with us – take the first step and request your A5 Checklist now!

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Wheelchair Safety with Integrity: Enhancing Mobility through Solidarity

09/24/2023

In a world where the power of perception often shapes our understanding of others as well as ourselves, it’s crucial to embark on an exploration of wheelchair safety in solidarity with promoting inclusive mobility that values integrity and wellness beyond physical needs. Debunking prevailing social myths surrounding the capabilities of individual mobility device users, we hope to illuminate a path to break free from the biases that might negatively impact individuals’ self-perception and driving potential.

Emphasizing the functional strengths of individual mobility devices users, we will delve into how various factors – education, interaction, and societal attitudes – can profoundly influence the safe use of mobility devices, whether for the better or worse. In doing so, we hope to shift the focus away from individuals’ diagnoses and/or functional limitations to pay more attention to their current capabilities.

In our previous blogs, we explored surprising technological factors such as seating, programming and configurations, and drive controls: 3 Reasons for Accidents with Wheelchairs that Might Surprise You (Technological Factors) as well as key environmental barriers from accessibility, weather to traffic: Safeguarding Wheelchair Users: Unveiling 3 Key Environmental Barriers that Impact the Safe Use of Wheelchairs that all contributed to the safety of wheelchairs. With this third blog breaking down the significance of education, interaction, and societal attitudes, we invite everyone to perceive the safe use of mobility devices as an opportunity for assistance rather than a problem demanding solutions.

1. Mobility Education and Experience

1.1 Mobility Training Communication

It is essential to shift the conversation surrounding the training for individuals with disabilities from a focus solely on what they cannot do to a recognition and emphasis on what they still can, as this perspective encourages a more positively balanced view on their mobility potential, especially with proper use of mobility devices and adaptive technology. To elaborate, when individuals are learning about overall functionality of their bodies which is essential to their safety with mobility devices, they should be asked questions such as “which body part(s) do you find you use the most and are most helpful?” rather than only questions like “which part of your body do you struggle with the most in your everyday life and routine when you try to use mobility devices?”.

These two seemingly similar questions actually carry contrasting implications. One question emphasizes heavily on the individuals’ needs for the solutions proposed based on their reported limitations. This passive focus, in another word, implies that the individuals must depend on factors outside of their control to make their decisions for them. The other question, on the contrary, leaves the decision-making power within the hands of the individuals by simply highlighting all the functional capabilities they still have, allowing them to understand and recognize the available solutions in a much more dignified manner. The latter one is often more difficult to achieve because it requires not just telling, but also educating the individuals more in depth about their circumstances in order to arrive at the right decisions on their own.

1.2 Self Awareness and Training for Mobility

To build the self awareness needed to fully take control of one’s safety as well as realize one’s mobility potential in the long run, one should familiarize oneself with the diverse spectrum of functional abilities that impact one’s mobility:

Cognitive Ability

Cognitive ability is the way we think. It is all about our ability to focus, memorize, multi-task, and make decisions. It impacts our attention and interpretation of the world around us. If an individual has impacted cognitive ability, it is likely they will need more training and repetition of tasks involving their mobility device in their home and outdoor settings, to ensure they have the ability to safely make decisions about when to go faster, slower, change direction, and/or stop their wheelchair. Additionally, if decision-making is impacted due to cognitive impairment, it is best to steer clear of doing multiple tasks at once while driving the mobility device, as the individual might not be able to focus their attention on safety if they are distracted.

Fine Motor Ability

Fine motor ability is the way we move and use our fingers, hands, feet, and toes to complete tasks. Individuals with impacted fine motor skills may need more therapeutic intervention to maintain or enhance their level of functioning to better use their fingers and hands. In this case, training in alternative drive controls such as sip-n-puff, chin/tongue switch, and head array would be helpful – anything that can be used in place of a joystick that requires finger and hand movement. 

Gross Motor Ability

Gross motor ability is the way we move and use our head, neck, shoulders, arms, trunk, hip, and legs to complete tasks and navigate the world around us. Individuals with impacted gross motor skills may be receiving ongoing rehabilitation to maintain or enhance their current functioning and might be able to move their body to a certain degree while using their mobility device.

Visual Ability

Visual ability is the way we see the world around us. It is how clearly we see, how far we can see, how much depth we can recognize, what colors we see, and what textures we can recognize. Spatial ability is how we use all of this information to help us navigate in relation to our environment. Together, these are termed visual-spatial ability. Therapeutic interventions involving eye movements, hand-eye-coordination, and depth perception can help with rehabilitation. Training on adaptive technology and assistive devices that may help to “see” the world around them, past the point of their real visual field, could help in operating mobility devices safely. 

1.3 Experience with Mobility Devices

More time spent using a mobility device provides more experiential learning opportunities for individuals to become more aware of their bodies in relation to their surroundings, leading to safer use of mobility devices. Overtime, more experienced individuals learn to understand how to navigate various terrains in various weather conditions. They learn what areas in their homes are harder to navigate and which public spaces are accessible to mobility devices. They also have a better idea of how they can balance, go faster, go slower, or stop entirely while navigating known terrains ( the environment blog in this safety series discusses this in more detail). All in all, individuals who have more experience with their mobility devices can better advocate for improvements that will make their community more accessible and inclusive.

Individuals can learn to use their assistive devices and adaptive devices better, through use of these alongside their mobility device. Additionally, their ability to solve problems and later, build confidence in mobility device use increases as well. For example, the individual is not only aware of their own strengths, but the features of their assistive and adaptive technology, and the combination of both helps the individuals learn to be a safer mobility device user. Our technology blog in this safety series explores this further. Overall, their quality of life and self efficacy increase through experience of terrain and learning of technology.

Solution:

It is important to provide training on cognition, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, and visual-spatial skills to clinicians, vendors, families, and anyone else who works with individuals who use mobility devices. This knowledge can help stakeholders understand the goals and strengths of individuals who use mobility devices, so recommendations and opportunities can be made to fit well with these individuals. They can also learn more about the strengths-based approach and person- and family-centered care. This would help view needs as goals and view functioning as strengths. Experience working with mobility devices over time will assist with understanding accessibility more as well.

2. Societal Attitude

It is important to understand what societal attitudes, perceptions, and acceptance is when it comes to mobility devices and individuals who use them.  Although accessibility and disability may seem like universal concepts, the level of acceptance society displays varies.

Can societal attitudes of independence have an impact on how society views users of mobility devices and ultimately, how users of mobility devices view themselves? Can cultures where independence is highly valued view disability as more devastating perhaps, when compared to cultures where interdependence is supported?  Is it possible that individuals who use mobility devices from independence-valuing cultures view themselves as being more in need of accessibility than individuals who use mobility devices from interdependence-valuing cultures?

A journal article published in the Scandinavian Journal of Occupational Therapy suggests that societal attitudes of disability impact whether individuals who use power mobility devices either feel included or excluded in society. The issue is not just societal attitudes, it runs deeper.  The way society feels about individuals who use mobility devices can impact the way that individuals who use mobility devices view themselves. 

We have to be mindful to make sure that our attitudes of disability, mobility devices, and accessibility are equitable and fair so we can create a more inclusive society for everyone. Explicitly, negative bias may look like individuals saying insensitive things about disabilities. Implicitly, this bias may play out in the way that spaces are designed, policies are created, and health related evidence-based practices are researched. Some individuals may not be familiar with the challenges faced by wheelchair users and may lack awareness or understanding of their needs. This can result in barriers that make it harder for wheelchair users to move around comfortably and safely.  

Solution:

Providing more advocacy related campaigns, social media posts, and education can help people understand whether society is being inclusive of individuals who use mobility devices  or if there is more work that needs to be done to enhance accessibility of society by changing attitudes towards disability and accessibility.

3. Interaction

Individuals using a mobility device have either used these as a child or they come into contact with using a mobility device in their adult life. Skills like navigation, learning a skill, using our senses, identifying problems, and using creativity to solve these problems develop not just through our training in mobility devices and the experience we have with mobility devices. Rather, it goes beyond that – the training and experience works through the element of interaction. Interaction is when the individual can make changes to their mobility device, environment, and/or themselves in response to their experience with the mobility device and associated technology, their own goals and strengths, and their environment.

For example, when an individual uses their mobility device and their adaptive devices and technology in their daily routine, they may realize they need to alter their mobility device (such as adjust their seating), their routine (perhaps to low-traffic times), the devices and technology on the mobility device (perhaps adding backup cameras or blind spot sensors), and/or their own training (perhaps needing more information or training on certain aspects).  Check out our blog on The Prevention of Wheelchair Collisions to understand more about the value of experience, training, and your role in how to use mobility devices safely.

Solution:

The three blogs in the safety series highlight the importance of the technological, environmental, and personal aspects of safe mobility. We must understand the individual and their needs not in isolation, but view the goals and strengths of the individual in relation to their current mobility device, environment, training, experience, technology, and support available through relevant stakeholders (such as clinicians, vendors, and family). 

In summary, the goal of this entire blog series was to shed light on the factors beyond the individual’s diagnosis and functioning, and to increase opportunities for independent mobility. The purpose of this blog series therefore, is to take the strengths-based approach to improving quality of life. Just as one must not just speak of health in the presence of illness,  one must not speak of accessibility only in the presence of disability, otherwise we will only work to make this society more accessible if and when there is a disability. 

References

Mortenson, W. B., Miller, W. C., & Hardy, T. (2009). Ready to roll? Wheelchair use in residential care. . Disability Health Research network: UBC Okanagan. http://www.dhrn.ca/page.php?pageID=181

Widehammar, C., Lidström Holmqvist, K., Pettersson, I., & Hermansson, L. N. (2020). Attitudes is the most important environmental factor for use of powered mobility devices – users’ perspectives. Scandinavian journal of occupational therapy, 27(4), 298–308. https://doi.org/10.1080/11038128.2019.1573918

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Safeguarding Wheelchair Users: Unveiling 3 Key Environmental Barriers that Impact the Safe Use of Wheelchairs

08/14/2023

In this blog, you will learn how wheelchairs can enrich quality of life as you discover the three most common yet impactful environmental obstacles as well as ways to overcome them. From accessibility options, weather conditions, to population density, we break these factors down thoroughly in relation to mobility safety. Our goal of the Wheelchair Safety Series is to introduce a holistic perspective on how environments influence safety on wheels. This second article in the blog series sheds light on how the following environmental factors may interfere with the safe use of wheelchairs:

  • Accessibility
  • Weather
  • Traffic

Raising awareness about environmental hazards to wheelchair safety helps increase not just the safety of wheelchair users, but also the chance for the public to get involved. We hope that everyone can be a part of a more accessible and mindful shared environment.

Accessibility

The presence of accessibility-related environmental hazards can limit a wheelchair user’s ability to navigate their surroundings safely and independently, hindering their mobility and quality of life. Accessibility of public and private spaces is one major issue. Individual wheelchair users frequent public spaces such as parks, libraries, malls, theaters, healthcare facilities, and grocery stores. If a building has no ramps, elevators, appropriate clearance and size of doorways, and/or visible signs, it prevents wheelchair users from entering as well as impairs their ability to maneuver safely once inside.

Commonly seen challenges of navigating public spaces include and are not limited to maneuvering narrow aisles, backing up and into spaces with lots of traffic and/or fragile items, elevation changes between flooring, and having belongings (such as backpacks, oxygen tanks, or wiring from your adaptive and assistive technological devices) getting caught while maneuvering. 

A computer generated 2-dimensional mid-wheel drive black wheelchair with beige seating beside black text reading 'powered mobility device users' from Edwards and McCluskey, 2010 and Gavin and Dreschnack, 2015. Orange 20% statistic beside a computer generated icon of a red star with 6-points and yellow outline with black text reading 'experienced at least 1 major collision within the past year'. Blue 33% statistic beside a computer generated broken black rectangle with black text reading 'result in damage to mobility device'. Blue 11% statistic beside a computer generated icon of a light blue hospital outline with a red cross with black text reading 'result in hospitalization for injuries due to collision'. Black text reading 'cost of medical bill $25000-$75000 and duration of stay 4-8 weeks long'

Lack of Awareness Leads to Lack of Accessibility

Additionally, cracked or uneven paths, gravel surfaces, and rugged terrains can easily get the wheels stuck, leading to wheelchair accidents. At times, especially in busy cities, we constantly see parked cars or groups of people blocking sidewalk entrances and exits, forcing wheelchair users to take alternative routes that are potentially dangerous. Navigating on the sidewalk is especially a safety concern when curbs are involved. A common fear of wheelchair users is accidentally going over a curb and into oncoming traffic, as this could lead to catastrophic injuries. 

On the other side of the curbs, there are additional factors of risk such as changes in elevation and surface type (e.g., grass, mud, gravel). Tipping or falling into grassy patches can lead to the wheels getting stuck. An injury prevention journal presented a study highlighting wheelchair-related injuries by age. It suggested that over 100,000 injuries lead to ER visits one year. In which 65–80% of injuries related to tips and falls. As you can see, barriers above all deter wheelchair users from accessing and enjoying outdoor spaces, negatively impacting their safety, independence, confidence in their ability to maneuver a wheelchair, and quality of life.

Solutions:

  • Downloading apps that show accessibility rates of a particular location.
  • Additions to wheelchairs mentioned by Sunrise Medical, such as encoders, can help with safe steering of the wheelchair to ensure it stays on the path and direction it was intended to be on, regardless of the environmental hazards that come in the way.
  • If going to a new public place and you need more information about its accessibility, perhaps calling ahead or visiting their ‘contact us’ and/or ‘about us’ section on their website might help plan ahead for your visit. Look for signage that might prepare you about the accessibility of a place ahead of time, for example, parking lots.

Weather

In most regions where seasons changing is a yearly ritual, not many are aware of the various challenges that come with each of the four seasons. From summer, fall, winter, to spring, wheelchair users face plenty of seasonal challenges within their indoor and outdoor environments that demand more awareness and attention from the community.

To name a few, there are unclean pathways covered by fall leaves and/or snow. There may cracked terrain with water piled up inside. There are leaves, snow, and water that can hinder the driver’s view and/or depth perception, making it difficult to predict what they are driving themselves into and increasing the likelihood of a bad accident. During winter times, wheelchair users can bump into snow banks. They can easily scrape parts of their wheelchair, and even tip and fall, crashing into snow banks.

Weather changes may impact accessibility of public transportation for individuals using wheelchairs. Uncleared sidewalks near bus stops prevent wheelchair users from boarding the buses. This adds unnecessary cost and stress to wheelchair users just to get around. In places where weather conditions change often, timely maintenance of pathways is a challenge. Failure to do so forces wheelchair users to allocate more funds for alternative transportation such as uber and taxis just to avoid social isolation and carry out routine errands (read more on this topic at inaccessibility of public transportation).

Solutions:

  • Having access to cost-effective accessible taxi services such as Uber and Lyft. Torontonians can check out our blog on what to look out for when trying to book a ride on Accessible Transit in Toronto.
  • Looking for visible signage (‘an icy slope’ or ‘road curves ahead’ or ‘bridge ices over in winter’) to prepare you for safe navigation of your wheelchair can be helpful.
  • Keep up-to-date with wheelchair maintenance. Make sure you complete maintenance of all your assistive devices and your wheelchair ahead of weather changes. This way, your wheelchair, technology, and you, are all ready for safe wheelchair navigation and maneuverability.

Traffic

Using a wheelchair in a busy environment with lots of cars and people can get hazardous for wheelchair users. Public spaces are generally louder during high traffic hours such as the beginning and end of the day. During those times especially, there are a lot of larger vehicles that tend to reduce visibility and accessibility for everyone, not just individuals who use wheelchairs. Examples include large transportation trucks, large school buses, large public transport buses, and emergency vehicles.

Awareness of surrounding areas is important not just for individuals who use wheelchairs, but the general public as well. Wheelchair users are more vulnerable to accidents in high traffic areas. Automobile drivers may not be paying attention to the road, especially in high traffic areas. This may lead to collisions with wheelchairs.

Let’s talk about what is beyond the typical traffic.

When we say traffic, we often think of cars, buses, and bikes. What we don’t realize is that traffic on the road is not the only concern. Foot traffic on sidewalks can be of concern as well. When there are a lot of people accessing public walkways, maneuvering a wheelchair gets challenging as the user has lot more things they must try to avoid bumping into. To add to that, others sharing public sidewalks need to be mindful of how much space they leave to wheelchair users when using devices such as scooters, strollers, and walkers.

On top of everything mentioned above, the less talked about concept of “sensory traffic” needs to addressed. Intensive vehicular and pedestrian traffic often come with overwhelming sounds and lights as well. Not only must wheelchair users navigate through weather and accessibility related environment factors, they must also do all this under the constant influences of surrounding sensory stimulations and distractions. A sudden sensory input can lead the individual to act abruptly braking out of panic or accelerating in a rush. The individual has to divide their attention between all three traffic types then, vehicular, pedestrian, and sensory: this attention required for long periods of time and to make decisions,  makes it even more difficult for individuals using wheelchairs to be socially active. 

Solutions:

  • You can increase your visibility to others by wearing bright colours, adding LEDs to your wheelchair and parts, hanging bright bags on your wheelchair if you use bags. Check out our blog on Wheelchair Safety Tips for more ideas.
  • Adding sensors, cameras, and mirrors to your wheelchair could warn you when there is a change in your immediate environment. For example, a sensor could notify you if someone drives, runs, or walks past you suddenly. Check out our blog on the Pros and Cons of Visual Aids.
  • Using a white cane could help improve depth perception during changes in elevation so you can prepare ahead of time when maneuvering your wheelchair.

At the end of this blog, we invite you to envision the potential opportunities out there for us to create a more inclusive and supportive environment!  Do check out our previous blog in this Safety Series that talks about the 3 technology-related factors impacting the safe use of wheelchairs: seating, programming and configurations, and drive controls.

References/Citations:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2563507/https://brazemobility.com/3-reasons-for-accidents-with-wheelchairs-that-might-surprise-you/https://brazemobility.com/life-is-a-journey-not-a-destination/https://brazemobility.com/wheelchair-safety-tips-for-driving-on-roads/https://brazemobility.com/visual-aids-for-people-who-use-wheelchairs/https://brazemobility.com/accessible-transit-the-what-where-how-of-wheel-trans/https://www.sunrisemedical.ca/education-in-motion/clinical-corner/december-2016/steer-correction-for-power-mobility Mortenson, W. B., Miller, W. C., & Hardy, T. (2009). Ready to roll? Wheelchair use in residential care. . Disability Health Research network: UBC Okanagan. http://www.dhrn.ca/page.php?pageID=181 Xiang, H., Chany, A. M., & Smith, G. A. (2006). Wheelchair related injuries treated in US emergency departments. Injury prevention : journal of the International Society for Child and Adolescent Injury Prevention, 12(1), 8–11. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1136/ip.2005.010033

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