Staff member standing near a wheelchair hooked up to a monitor

Wheelchair Clinic

What is the Wheelchair Clinic?

The wheelchair seating and positioning clinic at Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital offers people with mobility limitations a variety of seating and mobility options. The clinic is designed as a community service to provide expert evaluation by a therapist, who is an Assistive Technology Professional and Certified Seating & Mobility Specialist, to assess needs for equipment, mobility, custom seating, posture and positioning.

A comprehensive wheelchair evaluation will be performed including functional status, postural evaluation and equipment assessment. Multiple manual and power wheelchair models are available from various manufacturers for trial. Recommendations for equipment will be made to optimize function, independence, skin integrity and postural alignment. A qualified equipment supplier (DME provider) who is ATP certified and specializes in complex rehab technology also will be present during the evaluation to ensure optimal outcomes and continuity of care throughout the process.

Who performs the comprehensive wheelchair evaluation?

Erica Walling MPT, ATP/SMS, is the Wheelchair Clinic Manager. “ATP” is for Assistive Technology Professional, a broad-based certification covering all major areas of assistive technologies, while “SMS” – Seating and Mobility Specialist – is a specialty certification concentrating on seating, positioning and mobility. Walling began her career with a brief stint as a pediatric physical therapist, but soon moved to become a neuro therapist at a rehab center in Georgia, working with stroke and spinal cord patients.

“As soon as I started, I knew that was the population that I loved to treat,” said Walling. “It’s because you can really see the difference that you make in their day-to-day lives and their function. And while I was there is when I was first asked if I was interested in doing wheelchair clinic – which I then did three times a month. When I moved to Florida and got a job with Brooks, they knew I had this experience. I eventually moved to the Wheelchair Clinic, which is a full-time position. We provide support with our expertise to all of the Brooks service lines – including the new inpatient rehab hospital at Bartram.”

It is strongly recommended that you return to the wheelchair clinic for the delivery and fitting of custom equipment by our highly trained and specialized staff to ensure proper fit and function.

What specialty wheelchair services are offered?

Specialty services include:

  • Specialty control devices (alternative drive controls), including various head control systems, sip and puff systems, chin controls, switches and customized joy sticks
  • Pressure mapping to determine optimum pressure distribution for seat and back cushions. This is a computer-enhanced assessment tool to identify areas of the body at highest risk for skin breakdown, providing education and assisting in selection of appropriate cushions
  • Custom molded seating systems for clients who need specialized seat and back cushions for fixed postural deformities
  • Wheelchair training utilizing an obstacle course for functional and efficient mobility

What are some recent advancements in wheelchair technology?

As with other areas of Brooks, the Wheelchair Clinic is involved with research and new technologies at all different stages of implementation, allowing patients to experience the most up-to-date tech in seating and mobility. Walling discussed some of the more recent and interesting advancements:

  • MagTrack: A recently-completed collaborative research project between Brooks and the Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. It’s a cutting-edge assistive technology that enables power wheelchair users to control their connected devices, like a smartphone or computer, and drive their power wheelchair using an alternative, multi-modal controller. The MagTrack’s Head-Tongue Controller (HTC) allows the user to perform a variety of complex tasks in a single controller through the use of tongue and head movements, which are detected by a discrete eyewear and a tracer placed on the tongue.
  • The Ability Drive / “eye gaze system”: Another alternative wheelchair drive control system that combines proprietary software, a modified tablet computer and eye tracking camera to create a virtual joystick. “A tablet is mounted in front of the patient, and they see their environment through this tablet,” said Walling. “There’s a camera in the tablet calibrated to the user’s eye movements. There are different icons/targets on the screen. The user looks at the different targets/icons on the screen, such as arrows that point forward, right, left, reverse. The user looks at which direction they want to go, and it will drive the wheelchair in that direction.”
  • LUCI: This system prevents tips, collisions and falls before they happen. “It’s basically cameras or sensors all around the wheelchair,” said Walling. “If you have someone who, let’s say, maybe has difficulty controlling the chair, or perhaps isn’t as safe driving the chair, it will automatically prevent an accident. I tested it out by intentionally trying to run into my coworker in the gym. Before I could hit him, the wheelchair stopped me.”
  • Standing power wheelchairs: While not a new technology, Walling notes, more and more manufacturers are bringing their versions to the market. “It’s a power wheelchair that drives and does everything that a normal power wheelchair does, but it also has a seat actuator that will stand them completely upright,” said Walling. “You can drive the power wheelchair when you’re standing and that’s great because a standing program is really good for a lot of patients, when appropriate for their situation and diagnosis. In the past, to be compliant with a standing program, patients would have to transfer out of their wheelchair into a static, standing frame. The standing power wheelchair takes that component out. It makes them more compliant with their standing program and also helps them be more independent.”

Walling says that the relationships between Brooks and the manufacturers is a big part of the Clinic’s success in helping patients with new technology. “I get to work with and learn from the manufacturer reps of all the different types of equipment,” said Walling. “All of our vendors have been doing this a very long time and they come with their own set of knowledge. The teamwork to help patients get the best equipment that they need, to be the most independent they can be, is really rewarding.”

Who can utilize the Brooks Rehabilitation Wheelchair Clinic?

The Brooks Wheelchair Clinic is designed as a community service, that is, it’s not only for Brooks’ patients. “You just need a doctor’s referral,” said Walling. “For example, from the community I’ll see someone who has been in a wheelchair for 10 years and needs reevaluation for a new one; or someone who was diagnosed with MS and needs to know about mobility devices.”

Please call (904) 345-6827 to learn more about the Brooks Rehabilitation Wheelchair Clinic.

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