Innovation needed for wheelchair users, study shows

Investment and innovation for the development of assistive technologies for people with limited mobility is needed, new research suggests.

An international study of wheelchair users by ComRes on behalf of the Toyota Mobility Foundation shows that mobility devices can cause discomfort and pain.

The research polled wheelchair users in five countries and showed that 90% of users in the UK have experienced pain and discomfort as a result of their mobility devices. More so, every day half said they experience back pain, 32% said they experience shoulder pain, 26% experience neck pain and 21% constantly experience back pain. The study also found that wheelchair users in the UK experience repetitive strain injury (RSI) and pressure sores (32% and 23% respectively).

The study also shows that over half (51%) of UK wheelchair users need assistance to travel to destination, while 46% say they have been unable to find an accessible toilet when needed.

Furthermore, 29% of UK wheelchair users reported having to wait for multiple buses or trains to pass before one had space to accommodate them, while nearly a quarter (23%) say they have been declined entry on to public transport.

Over a quarter of those surveyed said they have felt frustrated because the design of their mobility device felt outdated.

Those surveyed suggested the kinds of improved that would be most helpful. The top five suggestions were devices that allowed wheelchair users to, move around faster; perform regular day to day tasks more easily; feel more relaxed & comfortable with a device that feels more natural and like an extension of themselves; feel more confident and able to socialise with friends and feel a sense of spontaneity, freedom and independence.

The Toyota Mobility Foundation in partnership with Nesta’s Challenge Prize Centre commissioned the research in order to better understand the day-to-day experiences of wheelchair users as part of the Mobility Unlimited Challenge.

A $4 million global challenge was launched in November last year by Toyota with the aim of changing the lives of people with lower-limb paralysis.

The Mobility Unlimited Challenge is seeking teams around the world to create game-changing technology that will help radically improve the mobility and independence of people with paralysis.

Ryan Klem, director of Programs, Toyota Mobility Foundation commented: “This research expresses the urgent need for innovation in this area. It’s surprising that with all of the technology we have today, we still have people in constant pain as a result of their mobility devices. The comments we are receiving through social media show the kinds of developments that people want to see and we hope the Challenge will result in genuinely life-changing technologies.”

Charlotte Macken of Nesta’s Challenge Prize Centre, commented: “While the focus of this Challenge is lower-limb paralysis, we absolutely do expect that the technology developed as a result will be transferable and have the potential to improve the lives of a much wider group of people. This Challenge is about achieving impact, and for that reason, we needed to narrow the focus. However we recognise that people have a wide range of mobility needs and hope to be able to help them too.”


Reece Armstrong is a reporter for Digital Health Age. Coming from the North East of England, Reece has an MA in Media & Journalism and a BA in Popular & Contemporary Music from Newcastle University. Reach him on Twitter or email via:

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