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WesternU Doctor of Physical Therapy students receive hands-on wheelchair seating, DME, and assistive technology training

by Rodney Tanaka

April 23, 2023

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Western University of Health Sciences Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) students in the College of Health Sciences (CHS) learned the importance of cushioning and gained first-hand experience in operating alternative control devices and Durable Medical Equipment (DME).

The second annual “The Neuro and Pediatric Assistive Technology, DME and Wheelchair Extravaganza” for 53 second-year Doctor of Physical Therapy students and Casa Colina neurology residents on April 7, 2023, was organized by CHS Assistant Professors Tammie Keller Johnson PT, DPT, NCS, ATP, CBIS, MS, and Karin Roback, PT, DPT, EdD. This year’s event was even larger than last year’s event.

The learning objectives were to:

  • Practice the use of various alternative control devices, become familiar with group 3 power wheelchairs, K0005 ultra lightweight wheelchairs, power assist, and the features available on each of these different types of wheelchairs for various diagnoses of patients.
  • Understand various types of cushions (foam, air, gel, combination…) and what is the purpose of pressure mapping.
  • Become familiar with various types of Durable Medical Equipment (DME) for pediatrics and adults with neurological conditions.

There were Wheelchair, DME, and technology vendors, assistive technology professionals, and clinicians that set up six stations that demonstrated these learning objectives.

Second-year DPT student Hansal Dalal operates a wheelchair utilizing an eye tracking control system. (Steven Webber, WesternU)

At one station, NuMotion Assistive Technology Professional (ATP) Mark Gil demonstrated a wheelchair that utilized an eye tracking control system. Second-year DPT student Hansal Dalal was one of the first to try it.

“If we’re going to be clinicians in the future wanting our patients to have this, then it’s really good for us to have a really good idea what we’re giving to our patients,” Dalal said. “This is extremely valuable. I’m honestly grateful. It’s a cool opportunity to be here and experience this for ourselves.”

Second-year DPT student Justine Nguyen tried out the wheelchair operated with chin movements.

“This relates to our neuro curriculum, seeing complex patients and the different types of assistive devices they may need,” Nguyen said. “This helps me to be more comfortable and more confident. I know how it operates, so it’s easier to do patient education with it.”

The Wheelchair Extravaganza showcases equipment and resources that many people don’t know about, Dr. Johnson said.

“It’s important as a PT that they know it exists. They are going to be a front-line provider,” she said. “They can have enough knowledge to advocate for their future patients as to what the standard of care should be and what is medically necessary for their patients.”

Other stations included the students pressure mapping while sitting on different cushions to prevent wounds. All students got the opportunity to trial various types of power assists that were attached to ultra-lightweight wheelchairs that raced up and down the esplanade. There was a room featuring a variety of pediatric DME and a station with custom-made switches that non-verbal children could use to communicate with.

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