Personalized Wheelchair Controls for People with Multiple Sclerosis: What Helps the Most

Karl W. Brown, BSAE, Donald M. Spaeth, PhD, RET, Rory A. Cooper, PhD
Human Engineering Research Laboratories, Pittsburgh VA Healthcare System, Pittsburgh PA


The position sensing joystick (PSJ) is the most common device consumers use to control electric powered wheelchairs (EPWs). But, the PSJ in inadequate for some who desire powered mobility but have sensory, motor, and cognitive difficulties. Personalized interfaces can enhance control and possibly restore mobility for such individuals. The aims of this research are to find new ways to increase access to mobility devices and to determine which – if any – customizable features provide the most benefit. Four subjects with multiple sclerosis (MS) controlled an EPW in a virtual environment with a PSJ or isometric joystick (IJ) with and without personalized features. Results indicate that custom settings may vary from day to day and sensory impairments such as numbness may be contra-indicative for isometric controls.


joysticks, virtual reality, multiple sclerosis, user interface, wheelchair control


This study was funded by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs Grant Number B3287R. The author would like to thank Dr. Shirley Fitzgerald, Megan Yarnall, and Erik Wolf for their assistance with this study.

Author Contact Information

Karl Brown
Human Engineering Research Laboratories
VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System
7180 Highland Drive
Building 4, 2nd Floor East, 151R1-H
Pittsburgh, PA 15206


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