Big Technology for Little Fingers

They're niches within the niche: Manufacturers who create switches and proportional driving controls for power chairs, and who constantly evolve their products.

Lisa Rotelli is the VP of Adaptive Switch Labs (ASL).

“We began the development of products which could allow children who had never been considered candidates for power — those who couldn’t pass the ‘standard’ assessment/tests in seating clinics — to be able to drive,” she says. “This included not only very young children, but also older children and young adults, particularly with cerebral palsy, who couldn’t drive with a joystick. I have also, as a manufacturer, been involved with very young children, especially those with SMA, in using our ‘minijoystick,’ which is a very small and very sensitive joystick.”

Today, ASL’s lineup features “our electronic switches — which include proximity sensors in head arrays, and our fiber optic switches and photo electric switches. (They) have been and continue to be used by children of all ages, in our usual configurations, as well as unique configurations we help in customizing. We have developed many trays which have embedded in them fiber optic switches, for use with children who have weakness and limited range of motion, as well as using head arrays in varying configurations to assist children in learning how to drive using their head. We make products which can easily be adjusted, altered and configured to work with all children and their specific needs.”

Christopher Ligi, national sales manager for Switch-It, says his company has taken cues from the gaming industry.

“A therapist gave me this idea,” he says. “To design a control based on an Xbox or PS2 controller. Not only is that a fun, motivating thing, but it’s a controller that goes with them. You try to mount the joystick where they can access it, but maybe they’re moving around. That joystick can be held in their hand.”

Switch-It makes both proportional and switch controls, and Ligi notes that some kids end up using a proportional control as a de facto switch by, for instance, pushing the joystick all the way forward or not pushing it at all, instead of pushing it forward in degrees.

But Ligi still sees benefit in that.

“If you had a device that was proportional, and they were using it only as a switch, that in itself is getting them driving,” he points out. “They could potentially see and learn that cause and effect.”

And that’s the entire point, he adds.

“We don’t know what they’re capable of learning sometimes until they try it. And we don't learn everything at once. It’s a gradual thing. Maybe they won’t grasp it. But maybe they will.”

This article originally appeared in the April 2011 issue of Mobility Management.

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at

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