Use of Power Wheelchair Controls for Computer Access: Case Studies

Maureen Aliani OTR/L, ATP; Christopher Marotta OTR/L; Marlana Longo MOT, OTR/L; Ahmee Ko MS,OTR/L


Six high school students at the Henry Viscardi School are currently using their power wheelchairs for computer access via a mouse emulator.  Each student has made progress towards independence in computer access.  Brief comparison of previously utilized assistive technology access, variations of software used, benefits and challenges for each student.

Key Words:

Mouse Emulator, Power Wheelchair Controls

Statement of Problem/Background/Purpose:

The Henry Viscardi School is a school for students with physical disabilities.  A majority of the students in the school are unable to use standard computer hardware for access. Many of the students are non-functional writers, they rely on use of computers to produce text.  Finding the most effective and efficient means of computer access for accessing the curriculum is a common goal for students.  Various applications of Assistive Technology are used on a daily basis to achieve this goal.  In recent years, finding appropriate and effective assistive technology for computer access has become more intricate as physical abilities and positioning needs have become more complicated.  Accordingly, for some students, the therapy staff has pursued use of power wheelchair controls for computer access.   This poster will provide six brief case outlines of students using power wheelchair controls for computer access. 

Current Technology/Current Methods:

Currently, the Henry Viscardi School has six students who have are using their power wheelchair controls to access computers or Augmentative Assistive Communication devices, either in occupational therapy or throughout the school day.  Each student is at a different point in training and use of their power wheelchair controls for access.  All students are currently high school students at the Henry Viscardi School.  This means they switch rooms for every class.  Easy set up of assistive technology is even more important due to the frequency each student must be set up in each room during the course of the school day.  

Design and Development/ Approach/ Solutions Considered:

In the beginning of exploring the possibility of power wheelchair control use for computer access there were many concerns:

For these students using their power wheelchair controls for computer access was assessed to be more effective than other access methods previously used.  Each student has different needs.  Therefore there is a variety of assistive technology software utilized to maximize each students abilities. 

Evaluation/Outcome/Performance & Cost:

For all but one of these students, using the power wheelchair controls provides greater independence in computer and/or AAC device access.  Cost can vary greatly depending on type of mouse emulator used for access.  However, for most of the students the cost of adding an ECU box for Invacare wheelchairs or ACM box for Jazzy wheelchairs and a mouse emulator is a significantly greater financial cost than the previous means of assistive technology access.  However, for all but one student this increased cost resulted in also greater independence in computer access.  All the students using their power wheelchair controls for computer access were highly motivated by this means of access.  Students were typically thrilled to try such an exciting and new method of access.  Students also felt a certain degree of confidence in trying this new means of access because they already had a mastery of driving their wheelchair.

Implications/Next Steps:

Continued student training and work is required to fully integrate the use of power wheelchair controls for computer access throughout the school day.  Additionally, continued therapist research and exploration of different applications of software and variations of use of power wheelchair controls for computer access are needed to maximize other students’ abilities to access the school curriculum. 


Special thanks to the students, student’s families, staff and administration of the Henry Viscardi School.

Also, special thanks to the tech support at Adaptive Switch Labs, Inc. for there assistance in programming wheelchairs and DynaVox tech support.

Author Contact Information:

Maureen Aliani OTR/L, ATP
The Henry Viscardi School
201 IU Willets Rd
Albertson, NY 11507
(516) 465-1664

Comparison of Students Using Power Wheelchair Controls for Computer Access