CARIS research on wheelchair users’ sense of autonomy in November issue of “Assistive Technology”

The November 2022 issue of Assistive Technology features research by members of the Collaborative Advanced Robotics and Intelligent Systems (CARIS) Laboratory, UBC’s Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, and the International Collaboration on Repair Discoveries (ICORD). The group, including Mechanical Engineering alumna and CARIS PhD graduate Dr. Mahsa Kalili and CARIS Director Professor Mike Van der Loos, studied how wheelchair users’ sense of autonomy changes with the type of mobility device and environment they are navigating. CARIS is dedicated to researching human-robot interaction in a variety of spheres, including the use of AI in enhancing assistive technology such as wheelchairs.

Different types of Wheeled Mobility Assistive Devices (WMAD) can inhibit or promote their user’s independence, accessibility to different places and involvement in life events. It is common for WMAD users to use more than one type of assistive device to navigate different environments. This paper explores the level of autonomy offered across various WMAD: manual wheelchairs, manual wheelchairs with add-ons that allow for navigating different types of terrain, and powered wheelchairs/scooters, contextualizing users’ experience of autonomy within the different environments where the devices were used.

The group collected data on which mobility devices users favoured across a range of indoor, outdoor, home, public and transportation environments, and when they would switch devices. Overall satisfaction due to perceived autonomy was highest with manual wheelchairs and manual wheelchairs with add-ons, though powered wheelchairs/scooters were preferred outdoors on different terrains. Manual wheelchairs with add-ons seemed to allow for the greatest flexibility between environments and activities while reducing strain on the user, and this study suggests that further development of modular add-ons that address issues such as ease of installation, weight, size, surface traction and addition of powered capabilities could expand users’ autonomy in varied environments.

“Perception of autonomy among people who use wheeled mobility assistive devices: Dependence on the type of wheeled assistive technology” can be viewed at