11 Mar ABLE organises Focus Groups
In November 2021, ABLE hosted two focus groups with members of our SCI community. The topic was the exoskeleton use at home. The groups were made up of 11 participants from the ABLE network who have a spinal cord injury and who had experience using exoskeletons for rehabilitation.
The purpose of the focus groups was to gather experiences, insights, and suggestions from members of the ABLE community about how to best adapt an exoskeleton to home and community use.
Participants shared experiences, examples of what is most important to them, and how they envision the future of this technology. It was a great opportunity to share and develop ideas together in a collaborative environment.
We paid special attention to the process of returning home from the hospital after a spinal cord injury. After SCI, it is common to spend some time in the hospital doing inpatient rehabilitation. And then after being discharged continue with outpatient rehabilitation or rehabilitation in a specialised clinic. This transition can be difficult and overwhelming as the person with SCI learns to adapt to their life at home with mobility challenges.
It is hoped that in the future, exoskeleton technology could be used during this phase to continue intensive gait training during and after the return home.
The idea is that patients would become familiar with exoskeleton technology in the hospital during inpatient treatment. And then be able to purchase or rent an exoskeleton device to continue their training at home. This type of training has many physical and emotional benefits. And increasing access to it could improve the quality of life of people with SCI.
A major discussion point of the focus group was that all participants chose to do supplemental physiotherapy in addition to what they were prescribed after being discharged from hospital care.
They found it essential to pay for additional sessions and private physiotherapy. As well as doing a lot of physical activity through sports to maintain their health. This gap between the publicly funded prescribed therapy and what participants needed could be partially addressed through exoskeleton technology availability. As exoskeleton use has been shown to be more efficient than conventional therapy. Some participants were interested in using the device as a training tool in their everyday lives. But a common concern was how the price of such technology limits it’s accessibility.
Participants also recommended many specific features for a future design of a home use exoskeleton. Including assistance levels tailored for each leg, a smoother transition from sitting to standing, spasticity detection, and additional user feedback to understand proprioception. We at ABLE have incorporated all of these ideas into our future design plans for the ABLE Exoskeleton. We will continue to integrate additional talking points into ABLE’s mission and vision for the future of this technology.
The focus groups were part of a larger collaboration with MADoPA. A French non-profit organisation that specialises in co-creation and evaluation of health and independent living solutions. Their mission is: “Make sure that a product is not only a product but a service with a purpose, and that makes a real difference in end-users daily life.” It was a pleasure to welcome two of their team members, Zoé and Raphael, to the ABLE office in Barcelona to facilitate the discussions.
The collaboration with MADoPA has been possible thanks to our EIT Health innovation project, in which we collaborate with 7 European partners.
ABLE would like to thank all the members of our community who participated in these sessions. Co-creation and collaboration is the only way to make a product that truly meets the needs of its users. And ABLE is dedicated to continuing to involve our users in this work. It is a great pleasure to be part of a community of such intelligent, motivated, generous people. And we look forward to continuing our journey together!