Evolving wheelchair design to better suit real life activities and improve participation

Jaimie Borisoff
DFP Classroom: FSC 2300, 2424 Main Mall

Modern wheelchairs are mechanically efficient for propulsion when properly configured, providing basic mobility benefits to countless people. However, the concept of “properly configured” is almost always static, and ideal in only limited situations (i.e. on level smooth surfaces). In contrast, the most difficult and unsafe movements are up or down slopes, or in rough terrains. And most daily wheelchair use does not entail propulsion - rather it involves simply sitting, reaching during specific activities, and interacting with other people who are often standing. Additionally, an optimal wheeling position may be detrimental to transferring in and out – an activity that may actually impact chronic upper body injury more than wheeling. Finally, active users, like most anyone, are interested in exploring natural environments ill-suited to wheelchair use. Considering these drawbacks in the typical situation in wheelchair design and deployment, in this talk I will discuss our supposition that a far more useful wheelchair configuration would be necessarily dynamic, such that various aspects of sitting position and chair componentry would be changeable “on the fly” to better suit various different activities and environments encountered throughout normal daily living and community participation. Dynamically configurable wheelchair designs are not only feasible, they have the potential to bridge the gaps preventing full participation in society for wheelchair users.