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 measurements 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 to 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?