Objective. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the ability of a basic driving simulator program to evaluate and train children with disabilities in their ability to operate a powered wheelchair.
Method. With a rating scale of skills considered essential for safe and efficient wheelchair operation, 22 children 7 to 22 years of age with either progressive muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy were evaluated in their ability to drive a powered wheelchair through a driving course. They were divided into two groups: one without prior experience driving a powered wheelchair and the other with experience. After the driving assessment with an actual powered wheelchair, the inexperienced drivers were trained on a joystick-controlled computer game in which they navigated through labyrinths similar in layout to their own school environment. A test maze was administered before and after this training. Both groups were then evaluated on their ability to drive a powered wheelchair through the driving course.
Results. The inexperienced drivers significantly increased their simulator scores over the training period. Their wheelchair driving performance was significantly better after the simulator training, although their performance remained poorer than that of the experienced drivers.
Conclusion. A simulator program can assist in the development and evaluation of the skills required to operate a powered wheelchair.