A User-inspired Mobility Experience of the Future: A Qualitative Investigation

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Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology


Wheelchair users (WCUs) face additional challenges than non-WCU to multi-tasking (i.e. open doors, cook, use a cell-phone) while navigating their environments. While assistive devices have attempted to provide WCUs with mobility solutions that enable multi-tasking capabilities, current devices have been developed without the input of end-users and have proven to be non-usable. More balanced approaches that integrate the end-users’ voices may improve current assistive technology usability trends. This study sought to empathically understand the lived experience of WCUs, their needs towards a mobility device, and their perceptions towards hands-free mobility. Full-time WCUs and care providers participated in semi-structured interviews examining wheelchair use and perceptions towards current and future mobility devices. Thematic analysis was used to analyze interview data. 9 WCUs (aged 32.1 ± 7.0 years; wheelchair experience 17.9 ± 11.6 years) and five care providers (years caring for WCU 3.75 ± 0.96 years) participated in the study. The most common disability type was spinal cord injury (WCUs: n = 3; care providers: n = 3). Qualitative analysis revealed four key themes: (1) Current wheelchair usage, (2) WCU and care provider perspectives, (3) Future wheelchair, and (4) Hands-free wheelchair. Accordingly, participants desire bespoke, light-weight mobility devices that can through tight spaces, access uneven terrain, and free the hands during navigation. This study provides meaningful insight into the needs of WCUs and care providers that assistive technology innovators can use to develop more usable assistive technologies. Amongst study participants, the concept of a hands-free mobility device appears to be usable and desirable.



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User-centered design, hands-free mobility, bespoke, wheelchair, assistive technology