Perception of spatial requirements for wheelchair locomotion in experienced users with tetraplegia

  • Takahiro Higuchi
  • Nao Hatano
  • Koichi Soma
  • Kuniyasu Imanaka


This study investigated whether prolonged experience in navigating with a wheelchair results in enhanced perceptual abilities in estimating space required for wheelchair locomotion. In experiment 1 experienced tetraplegic patients, who lacked somatosensory inputs from the upper-limbs, and inexperienced, able-bodied controls judged whether a door opening of various widths was passable in a wheelchair. The patients were accurate in judging a passable opening for familiar and unfamiliar wheelchairs, whereas the controls underestimated spatial requirements for a wheelchair. These results were replicated in experiment 2 under which they observed an opening while their trunk was rotated. No effects of the trunk rotations indicated that mental image of the body, which are likely to be susceptible to the somatosensory deficits, were not involved in the judgment. Collectively, experienced wheelchair users with tetraplegia are able to represent the relationship between space and the ‘body-plus-wheelchair’ system despite the somatosensory deficits.

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