Mountain Brook girl is one of first in the country to pilot new wheelchair technology

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) – UAB Hospital is researching new technology that could change the lives of wheelchair users. They’re part of a pilot program that’s collecting research from fewer than 10 people across the United States.

Eleven-year-old Betsy Pringle is from Mountain Brook, Alabama and she is one of the few people to pilot this new technology. Betsy was born with muscular dystrophy and she’s been in a power wheelchair for the last six years.

“Adding more safety features is a big peace of mind,” Betsy’s mom, Anne Pringle, said. “She can easily just drift off the edge if she’s not constantly paying attention.”

“If she were approaching a curb that was really steep, it would stop her, because it would sense the drop off,” UAB Physical Therapist Cathy Carver said.

The technology is called LUCI and it can go on any power wheelchair. It senses the chair’s surrounding area and prevents drivers from running into things and prevents the chair from tipping over.

“People who use wheelchairs are constantly looking ahead and thinking about where is the next obstacle or the next thing I’ve got to interact with,” Carver said. “So much of their thoughts, that we do not even realize, are spent doing that and this could take a lot out of it.”

Betsy has the technology for free, through a pilot program with UAB. Carver is working on research for the developers and Betsy is helping provide feedback from a real user.

“It seemed like a no-brainer, like why would we not try it,” Pringle said. “It offers such potential to help people. If she is going out and wanting to chat with friends instead of paying attention to the curb, this helps her be able to do both.”

The technology is still being developed, but Pringle said it will soon have a feature that notifies parents right away.

“If her chair tips, or some accident or crisis, then I will automatically get a text to my phone,” Pringle said.

Pringle said it allows Betsy to have more independence while providing reassurance for herself about Betsy’s safety.

“Honestly, I could see this type of technology becoming standard on every power wheelchair out there,” Carver said.

“I want it on our future chairs,” Pringle said. “It gives me a lot of peace of mind.”

Carver said the technology is still being perfected, but it is available for purchase through the developers. Carver will check in with Betsy periodically to see how the program is working and then report her findings back to the developers.

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