Assistive technology has improved at a rapid pace, much like technology in the computer, communications and other industries. Powered wheelchairs function more effectively, are easier to operate, and can be used by more and more people. Many communication devices have become Windows-based, which has allowed for improved voice quality, use of digital pictures, and has made them easier for everyone to program. Computers are faster, cheaper, and easier for people with disabilities to use.
So what happens if a person uses a powered wheelchair for mobility, a communication device to speak, and a computer for school or recreation? Up until now, various pieces of expensive equipment would need to be rigged together and set up for each activity (usually by someone other than the user). The end result was a lot of equipment that may or may not work on its own for the individual and certainly would not work together in a seamless way.
Recent developments in the powered wheelchair industry have begun to integrate all of the various pieces of technology into one system operated through the same equipment used to drive the power chair. And guess what? Sometimes it’s free! Power wheelchair manufacturers have begun designing their electronics around software based systems rather than hard-wired components. This has allowed engineers to “piggy back” useful software onto the same electronics used to drive the power chair. The result is an electronics package that allows the user to change modes and remotely control devices such as a TV or stereo and with inexpensive components, lights, fans, thermostats, and phones, using their joystick or other driving method. Many power chair electronics have also added Blue Tooth technology, which allows the user to control computer based devices like their communication device or personal computer wirelessly using their joystick or other driving method as a mouse.
These developments in power wheelchair electronics provide an opportunity to literally open doors for some people with disabilities. It’s taken a long time, but it looks as if people have a way to integrate much of their technology in the form of a power chair (finally).