Monthly Archives: March 2014

A Joystick of a Different Kind


By MATP Staff Member Laura Hall

As a person who uses a power wheelchair, I am excited by developments in assistive technology that make power mobility equipment more comfortable, more durable, and easier to use.  In particular, I love alternate drive controls –  AT that allows people with disabilities to drive their equipment with technology that isn’t dependent on the person’s ability to use a joystick.  (e.g. head array, Sip n Puff, switches) .However, in terms of the joystick controller, the designs are relatively limited.  Traditionally, they involve some sort of knob that is attached to a shaft.

Several months ago, a friend and former Michigander (and Spartan) offered me the opportunity to test his design, the ErgoJoystick – a new controller that replaced the knob with a handle for the entire hand.  As a powerchair user himself, Joe Olsen, who designed the device, felt that other joysticks fell short in providing comfort for driving longer distances and all day use,  I was interested to see if I would have less fatigue in my hands and wrists, and agreed to try it out.

The process of customizing the ErgoJoystick was relatively simple, involving just a few The Stringray Ergojoystick Handle in metallic redmeasurements and photos of my driving hand.  With three handle options to choose from, I chose the Stingray design,  which was recommended for people who frequently drive long distances, Once the device arrived, I was pleasantly surprised with how well it fit my hand.  In fact, many people mistakenly thought it was custom molded.

I had no trouble fitting the ErgoJoystick on the shaft (and fine motor tasks often present a challenge.  It fit more snugly than my original joystick, which is always losing friction and popping off.  I recognized through my trial that I actually position my hand differently throughout the day depending on the driving environment, and the ErgoJoystick accommodated that by rotating around the shaft.

I immediately felt more comfortable and had less pain using this joystick for longer distances.  It provided a more natural resting place for my hand, which in turn seemed toClose up of hand positioned in the Ergojoystick handle reduce spasticity.  Despite the rough winter season, I felt more control on the snowy, bumpy, slick surfaces than with my original joystick. On rough terrain or in tight spaces the shape of the Stingray allowed me to have more control by grasping the device in a claw position.

As with any piece of new equipment, there was a definite learning curve.  For me, this involved adjusting the way in which I drove in reverse and around tight corners, and the way I approached tables.  I also had to develop some muscle memory to avoid bumping the ErgoJoystick with my hand, arm, or sleeve as it is bigger, taller, and wider.

Though it worked well in my case, the effectiveness of the ErgoJoystick will be dependent of course on the individual’s abilities and how well it meets their needs.  While it may not work for everyone, it is exciting to have another joystick option on the market.

Have you ever designed your own assistive technology?  Or thought about it?  What would you design?





Constantly Connected


A Pebble SmartWatch The Pebble SmartWatch was on my AT Holiday wish list this year. While I did not get this for a holiday gift, MATP purchased one to share on the team and test for AT potential. We have the basic model, not the newer Pebble Steel. I have to say, my 2 week experience with the watch resulted in both positives and a few disappointments.  Being constantly connected is both good and well, sometimes annoying.

The most obvious disappointment was anticipated, as I have very small wrists—its rather large and clunky. I could, however, wear the watch with the included band. I would not say it was fashionable, and it looked a bit ridiculous on my wrist. Vanity aside, the fit did appear to impact function also. One feature of the watch is you can flick your wrist to turn on the light. Perhaps because of the fit, I had to really “flick” hard to get the back-light to come on. Of course you can also turn the light on with one of the buttons on the side, if your other hand is free.

Some of the features of the watch were really useful. I have a phone system at home that connects via Bluetooth to my phone, as I don’t have a land-line. I tend to leave my phone in the same place so I don’t lose it, but then miss text messages and other alerts. With the Pebble I could turn on notifications for text message and meeting reminders so it would vibrate when I received a message or reminder. The reminder alerts proved to be useful for cognitive support to remind me of upcoming meetings, tasks, medications I needed to take and so on. I just had to link my Google Calendar and set a reminder alert on the appointments.

I decided to have the watch alert me to email messages (Gmail). This got to be annoying at times however I did appreciate being able to determine with a quick glance whether I needed to respond to something or read something in more depth, or let it wait until later.  I also set it to notify me of text messages and phone calls. Occasionally having the watch vibrate and the phone ring was startling, however great for those occasions when my phone was buried somewhere and had been set to silent or vibrate.

I have an Android phone, and one of the big disappointments was the Android Pebble App Store was not yet opened for my trial with the watch. Glance app screen shot on smartphoneThis made it a bit more difficult to find apps. I tried an app called “Glance”. Glance lets you customize your Pebble with weather, calendar, and stocks and send pre-configured SMS messages. I liked it when it was connected and worked. With the pre-configured SMS messages, you could choose a contact from the watch, then a prefigured SMS message, push a button on the watch and send it.

I can definitely see the potential of the Pebble to be used as a cognitive support assistive technology. Certainly the watch could support a wide range of reminders, like my appointments and medications. I could also add checklist reminders using appointments in the Google Calendar with reminders. This could be used for work tasks.

As I was linking work-related items, I was able to take the watch off at the end of the work day. Often I’d feel relieved, like a big exhale. Though I’d occasionally feel annoyed about the reminders, I have to admit; I did actually miss it sometimes and found myself looking at my empty wrist!

As with any device, matching with personal abilities, needs and preferences is important. Setting up the apps and keeping the watch synced and charged does take some practice and intellectual ability. You’d have to be able to see and read the print to take full advantage of the reminders. The buttons and charger require fine motor ability to work. Putting the watch on may be an issue. The watch face on the basic model can scratch, though there are some plastic film-type screen protectors available. I often had to search for my glasses to read the tiny screen. And of course, you’d have to have a smartphone.

I have now passed the watch on to my coworker so she can test it for a couple weeks. Laura uses an iPhone, so will have access to different apps. Stay tuned for more reviews!

This entry was posted in Android, Cognitive, iPhone, Memory, Mobile and tagged Pebble, SmartWatch, Wearable on by .

Adventures in Adaptive Skiing


By MDRC Intern Piotr Pasik

Has the polar vortex and never ending winter got you down?   Are you are on the lookout for winter fun?  Perhaps adaptive skiing could help relieve that cabin fever.  Several weeks ago, I went adaptive skiing at Challenge Mountain, in Boyne City, Michigan, and documented the experience in a video about my Challenge Mountain adaptive ski experience.

The wide arsenal of adapted skiing equipment options available on-site puts skiers with disabilities in their most natural and least restrictive environment. For walker users like myself, a four-ski – basically the front end of a walker with skis as opposed to wheels – is an option. Sound pretty awesome? It is! After spending the morning session on the four-ski, I Side view of a bi-ski showing a white seat with high back and straps and blue frame extended outward to accommodate the legsopted to use the bi-ski in the afternoon, as it  gave me more control over my direction. A bi-ski is very similar to a mono-ski, in which the skier sits and uses outriggers – crutches with ski endings, if you will –  to control their direction. The additional ski on the bottom of a bi-ski adapts to the surface, giving the skier better balance control.

For new skiers, additional outriggers can be added to either the mono-ski, or the bi-ski, to prevent the device from tipping over, these are removed as the skier gains experience and confidence. All of the adapted skiing equipment can be adjusted to the skier’s range of motion and flexibility. Similarly, the volunteers consider the skier’s ability and experience in determining the extent of assistance that they provide.

In addition to providing a wide range of adapted skiing equipment for individuals with physical and mobility disabilities, the volunteers are trained to assist skiers with sensory disabilities such as blindness, or hearing loss. With skiing opportunities also available for skiers with intellectual disabilities, this adapted outdoor recreation program is very inclusive and offers skiing to a large portion of the disability spectrum. Furthermore, it is a family oriented program that offers adapted skiing training to family members of skiers with disabilities, so that they can enjoy the sport with their loved ones.

Assistive technology serves purposes that are primarily practical, but it can also amount to a lot of fun. As always, at the end of the day, assistive technology never fails to get you places, in this case, downhill, fast!

Looking for other activities to beat the winter blues?  Check out our achieved webinar, “AT for Winter Sports.


Bad AT User vs. Bad AT Fit

By MATP Staff Member Laura Hall
Last week, my colleague, Cathy McAdam, expressed feeling doubt in her abilities in the post. “The Problem isn’t Me, It’s Your Document!”   This week, I recognized an immediate feeling of shame in myself when I found out that there was hardware damage for the third time to my laptop I use for work.  If Cathy and I have both experienced negative feelings (and we have jobs that involve AT and Disability/AT pride), I imagine this is a common experience among AT users.  Sometimes it is hard to remember not to shame or doubt ourselves when the issue is really that there may be a bad fit between the AT and the persons needs or a person’s needs not being met through accessibility.
It’s easy for other people (perhaps unknowingly) to contribute to feelings of shame and doubt a person may experience around AT though things the say and do. For example, some people are quick to call people who use mobility equipment careless or reckless if damage occurs to their equipment or the environment (i.e. walls, corners, doors).  However, mobilitymultiple fingers pointing at one man, who sits covering his eyes in equipment is hard to operate at times, even under the best of circumstances, let alone without the proper controls, training or with equipment that simply does not work in the person’s environment.  MATP staff can recall countless other examples where AT users have been blamed when the real issue may be a poor match or not getting the training they need. For example, people who have been denied a device because someone else assumes they will break it, restricted use of the equipment outside of the home for fear of damage from the weather, blaming the person for not using a device or not being motivated enough.
Finding a Good AT Fit
Instead of blaming the person for being a bad AT user, it’s important to consider whether there it is a good AT fit. Getting a good assessment by a qualified professional is typically the best way to ensure of good match between assistive technology and the person’s needs. Some questions to consider include:
-How will the AT be used?
-Will it work in all environments (i,e, home, work, school, in public spaces)?
-Can it function in the elements/weather?
-Are accessories (cases, covers) or warranties needed to protect the AT?
-Is training necessary?
-Does the device need to be transported?  How will it be transported?
-How will it be stored?
-How will it interact with other equipment or AT the person uses?
What has your experience been?  Do you have tips to help people get the right AT?