The Wheelchair Trainer
Spinal Cord Injury is the ultimate life disruption, and each patient must confront a life of severely reduced independence. For a person with tetraplegia their new life will revolve around a powered wheelchair. Whether it’s from an accident, cancer or a degenerative disease, these people will find themselves physically and emotionally challenged in ways they could not have anticipated.
Evidence has shown that those who participate in their own recovery, drive their own rehabilitation, tend to have better outcomes. This philosophy is embodied by the Burwood Academy for Independent Living (BAIL) and its in-patient rehabilitation unit, TransitioNZ.
In 2015 we partnered with BAIL and Callaghan Innovation to create the equivalent of a flight simulator for wheelchair pilots in virtual reality, where people learn and practice their wheelchair skills.
Software configuration allows us to provide a high veracity simulation of each user’s individual chair. The environment itself is one of many anticipated experiences to help the patient adjust to their new life. As patients adapt to a new life in a powered wheelchair, everyday tasks like catching a bus can become overwhelming, and too many become isolated as a result. With our trainer they will be able rehearse these situations in safety, confronting environments that might otherwise seem threatening.
It is a powerful assessment and training tool for clinicians.
A pilot study with six people with tetraplegia and eight clinicians showed that the virtual wheelchair and environment was highly successful at reproducing the experience of operating a powered wheelchair. Comparative trials will start soon at Burwood Spinal Unit.