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Last Updated: Friday, 15 October, 2004, 05:58 GMT 06:58 UK
Games skills help wheelchair teen
Sam Mansel
Sam Mansel uses chin switches to operate his PlayStation
A teenager is using skills learned on a PlayStation to drive a custom-built wheelchair that has changed his life.

Sam Mansel has athetoid cerebral palsy which means control of his arms, hands and legs is disrupted by spontaneous and unwanted violent movement.

For several years the 17-year-old from Milford Haven used switches controlled by his chin to master computer games.

So when experts developed a new chair to give him more independence, they built it using the same technology.

Because he played with his chin switch so much on the PlayStation when it came to his wheelchair he did not need any instruction - he just went off like a bomb
Penny Mansel

Sam was able to use a more conventional wheelchair when he was younger until his posture changed, making it very painful for him.

He said: "About six years ago my life was fun.

"I had a normal chair, we used to go out and come home crying, but that was because we were laughing so much.

"That went on for five solid years, then one day my posture went down and I was uncomfortable."

The only chair he could sit in without pain was an armchair in the house.

"This chair wasn't so bad, except you couldn't go for a walk in it, you couldn't even walk down the road.

Sam Mansel
Sam now enjoys a trip to the shops after school

"For a whole year I was asking mum - what can we do?"

The team at the Rehabilitation Engineering Unit (REU) at Swansea's Morriston Hospital was called in to help.

Among the challenges they faced were making the new chair comfortable for Sam and designing a way he could control it.

Sam's mother Penny said: "Sam can't use his arms, legs or hands to help himself do anything but he can use his chin.

"He's got a chin switch which he uses for his PlayStation which he is a whizz at."

The head of the unit, Nigel Shapcott, said they were able to make the chair comfortable for Sam by moulding the seat to his requirements.

And, while speaking to him, they came up with the idea for the controls.

Mr Shapcott said: "Someone like Sam has really benefited from a huge number of advances in electronics in wheelchairs.

"A few years ago, a wheelchair was a very simple device with an on/off switch that would go in four directions and was very jerky.

"Sam's got the benefit of a system that will plug into customized switches enabling him to control his direction with a great deal of precision.

Nigel Shapcott
Nigel Shapcott said 3-D simulation is a very useful tool

"He has a lot of uncontrolled activity which makes it difficult for those caring for him and for us to get precise switches for his head.

"It makes a huge difference when someone has had training with some sort of interactive device and he is actually quite an expert at PlayStation.

"It's a very transferable skill and in fact we have talked in the field about using driving simulation from computers for this.

"Some of the environments he has in his computer are very like 3-D driving environments.

"There was no point in trying to develop something when there is an expert on the scene which is Sam driving very well in a virtual environment.

"It was an obvious thing to do."

Sam still needs to be accompanied by carers when out and about, but now he looks forward to simple pleasures which most people take for granted such as going to the shop after school.

Penny Mansel
Penny Mansel said it has made a huge difference to Sam's life

Mrs Mansel said: "Because he played with his chin switch so much on the PlayStation when it came to his wheelchair, he did not need any instruction - he just went off like a bomb.

"They've been back twice to turn up the speed for him and it's still not fast enough.

"It's made a huge difference to his life - it's opened up many doors for him and he can go out and about a lot more.

"He is now looking for an all-terrain wheelchair so he can go down to the beach and go a lot more places."

Sam added: "I got in it and it did exactly what they said, but better.

"We've been going to loads of places and that will never end."

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13 May 04  |  Technology


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