Visual Aids for People Who Use Wheelchairs
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.
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 are low-tech visual aids for wheelchair users that provides the user with instantaneous feedback regarding their environment.
Pros of Rear-View Mirrors
- Mirrors are the lowest cost solution, with wheelchair specific mirrors costing under $100.
- Mirrors don’t require charging.
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 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.
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 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!