Power Wheelchair & Bluetooth Capabilities:
What This Technology Can Provide

By Jay Doherty, OTR, ATP/SMS

Bluetooth® is a technology that anyone in the complex rehab technology industry should become familiar and comfortable with. Its role in the CRT field is growing constantly. Bluetooth offers opportunities like providing consumers with access to technology outside of their power wheelchair, using their drive control for access. Bluetooth is also giving clinicians and ATPs the ability to program a power wheelchair remotely, which has significant advantages from an efficiency standpoint.

For consumers that utilize motorized wheelchairs, Bluetooth technology can offer independence they’ve never experienced or haven’t had since their functional level changed. If a power wheelchair user has limited control (AROM, strength or endurance) over his or her body, Bluetooth gives the him or her the ability to control a smart phone, computer or a tablet to independently perform daily activities. Without Bluetooth, many clients would be dependent on others for things like making a phone call, turning lights on and off, controlling the temperature within their home, writing an email or fully participating in school and/or work.

Through Bluetooth, the input device that a consumer utilizes to control their motorized wheelchair can be used to control their smart device (phone, tablet or computer) as well. Q-Logic 3 offers multiple options for smart device access.

Bluetooth and Android Devices

With Android devices, such as a phone or tablet, the only option available at this time is mouse control. Once the electronics are paired with the Android device, a mouse cursor appears on the screen automatically. To control the movement of the mouse, the motorized wheelchair electronics must be in the auxiliary profile, which allows connection via Bluetooth to the device and the mouse function is activated. The consumer can move the mouse by providing drive inputs. These drive control inputs move the mouse cursor on the screen instead of driving the motorized wheelchair. To activate icons on the screen, a left mouse click should be performed through a special input. This can include a button on the joystick or a switch on the electric wheelchair with custom programming in Q-Logic 3 electronics.

To exit the screen or application on an Android smart device, a right mouse click is performed (this also can be performed with custom programming in Q-Logic 3 electronics). A client can fully control the apps on their Android phone or tablet with these functions.

Bluetooth and Apple® Devices

To access an iPhone® or an iPad®, there are two options for access with Q-Logic 3 electronics. The first access option with Q-Logic 3 is switch control. Switch control works as a directed scanning method of access. Each input/driving direction is assigned a short and/or a long command, if desired. I usually program the directions so that forward input command is a tap command. This is as if you tapped the screen with your finger to activate an icon. A right input command is set up as next item, so that every time you give a right command, the highlighted icon changes to the next icon in the order they are laid out. A left input command on the input device is set up as a previous item, so the user can return to the previous item if they went too far. When only using four commands, the reverse input command is home, which allows the consumer to easily exit the app and return to their home screen on their smart device. These four functions assigned in switch control provide the consumer with significant access to their apps on their iPhone. If more commands are desired, then the team must program the long commands. This provides an additional four input commands for greater control and access.

The second option to access an iPhone or an iPad with Q-Logic 3 is a function called Assistive Touch. Assistive Touch works very similar to a mouse function on an Android device. Assistive Touch provides a circular target/mouse that the consumer moves around the screen the same way they would move a mouse cursor. The difference is that the cursor circle is larger, so it is easier for some people to hit their targeted app without overshooting it. Assistive Touch will also require a mouse click but only requires one mouse click function. Once the cursor circle is over the app desired, the consumer performs a mouse click to activate the app and navigate within it.

Having access to apps on smart devices can increase independence in many areas of the consumer’s life. Bluetooth can offer a consumer the ability to return to school, take classes and do their work on a computer or tablet. Smart apps and smart home devices can interface together, allowing the consumer to independently turn lights on and off, control the temperature in the home, control their music or a television or open a door (with some home adaptations). Bluetooth can also provide access to cameras at the front door to see who it is and then unlock the door using smart door locks. The possibilities are significant.

Bluetooth can allow people who have disabilities to live more independently than ever before. By simply turning on the Bluetooth feature of a power wheelchair, it can be paired with the devices a consumer needs to access. So, give your consumers the level of independence they deserve and provide them with control over more aspects of their life. They will remember you for it and thank you!