Emma Smith

Power wheelchair skills training for individuals with cognitive impairment
William Miller
Halifax, Nova Scotia

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

As an Occupational Therapist, I was passionate about the areas of assistive technologies and wheelchair mobility. In my field, there is a substantial lack of research evidence to support our interventions, despite important clinical evidence. I decided to pursue a graduate degree to help to answer some of my own clinical questions, and to contribute to enhancing clinical care in my field.

Why did you decide to study at UBC?

I chose UBC because I valued the opportunity to work with Dr. Bill Miller and his team, as well as the excellent learning environment available to me through the Rehabilitation Sciences program and the Rehabilitation Research Lab at GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre. I have family roots in BC, and love Vancouver, so the opportunity to study with a great team in a great city was too hard to pass up!

What do you hope to accomplish with your research?

I hope my research will lead to new and innovative ways to train individuals in power wheelchair use. Improving access to power mobility can have long term effects for independence, reducing the burden on caregivers, and increasing quality of life for individuals who may not otherwise have the opportunity to mobilize independently.  Effective training approaches will improve access to power mobility, and may reduce the costs associated with power wheelchair provision.

What are your future career goals?

My goal is to become a clinician-scientist, with specific expertise in power wheelchair assessment and training, conducting research driven by clinical questions, and applying that learning back to my own clinical practice. I'd like to contribute to an increasing body of evidence supporting the benefits of assistive technology provision, benefiting a growing older adult population.

What has been your most memorable Vancouver experience so far?

I've lived in Vancouver a number of times in my life, and I always enjoy the opportunity to be outside for so much of the year. A highlight was participating in the Vancouver Triathlon in Stanley Park, completing the sprint distance, and improving on my previous time from another city!

Personal Interests / Hobbies

I spend a great deal of my non-academic time engaged with volunteer organizations in Canada and overseas. I'm particularly interested in improving quality of life of people with disabilities, and have worked in a volunteer capacity with the Sunshine Foundation of Canada, Vancouver Adapted Snow Sports, and Team Canada Healing Hands. I'm also involved in a number of professional organizations related to Occupational Therapy and Assistive Technology.


Learn more about Emma's research

I am investigating innovative ways to teach power wheelchair skills to individuals with cognitive impairments associated with aging and other conditions. For an individual who has difficulty walking, using a power wheelchair can improve their participation in daily life and social activities, with benefits for overall health and quality of life. For those with cognitive impairments, learning new skills becomes difficult, and the standard methods we use to teach power wheelchair skills are not adequate. Some individuals may not have the opportunity to learn to operate a power wheelchair, as there are limited ways to maintain safety throughout the learning process. My research is investigating a remote controlled, dual control wheelchair, similar to a dual controlled vehicle used in driver education, to help people learn to operate their power wheelchair. Using this remote controlled system, we will teach people how to operate their power wheelchair in a way that lets them learn experientially, in a safe environment. This may allow us to bridge the gap between our teaching styles, and their learning needs, increasing power wheelchair skills, participation, and quality of life.