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Occupational Therapy students study Assistive Technology

Tuesday, 01 September 2009


  • Jack drives the chair using a single switch with his right hand

    Jack drives the chair using a single switch with his right hand

Occupational Therapy students at ECU study assistive technology as a unit in their course.

The World Health organisation has defined assistive technology as: 'An umbrella term for any device or system that allows individuals to perform tasks they would otherwise be unable to do or increases the ease and safety with which tasks can be performed.' (Glossary Of Terms For Community Health Care And Services For Older Persons”, 2004)

Assistive technology can include mobility devices such as walkers and wheelchairs, as well as hardware, software, and peripherals that assist people with disabilities in accessing computers or other information technologies. It assists people with vision or hearing impairments, people with communicative disorders, physical disorders and learning disabilities.

OT@ECU has an impressive range of assistive technology, including a Smart Wheelchair. This was developed by the CALL centre in UK and is one of only two in Australia. To effectively drive a standard power wheelchair a person requires vision to enable them to see where they are going, to see obstacles etc; they require the cognition to problem solve, make decisions and react, and they require the physical skills to manage the driving mechanism (usually a joy stick).

This excludes a significant number of people from developing driving skills or just experiencing independent mobility.

The Smart Wheelchair is an augmentative mobility training system, which provides independence, fun and motivation, and can enable people to develop skills to drive conventional power chairs.

The Smart Wheelchair has some unique features which allow people to experience mobility and to develop driving skills in a safe environment.

The chair has 2 unique facilities – these are:

  • ‘line following’ where the chair will follow a line laid out on the floor
  • ‘bump and go’ where the chair detects obstacles and will stop before contacting the obstacle.

Initially the chair has full control of these facilities and as the driver develops skills the chair can be programmed to increase the control given to the driver.

The chair can be operated by a single switch, or multiple switches, scanners, or joystick as the driver progresses.

We have a “platform” version of the Smart Wheelchair, which allows users to be wheeled onto it in their own seating systems, enabling multiple users to access the chair very quickly and simply.

A small number of clients have used the Smart wheelchair at ECU in a clinic setting with occupational therapy students; additionally an occupational therapy honours student, Ms Sarah McGarry has completed a research project at The Centre for Cerebral Palsy with four children.

Some of the very positive outcomes for children using this assistive technology include development of motor skill, increased communication and social skills.

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