Pushing and pulling a wheelchair – that’s how Senior Mitchell Duboc manuevers the UConn campus at Storrs

Cancer damaged his spinal cord when he was 10-years-old.

Mitchell explained, “I’m a T-6 complete parapalegic so I don’t have any motion below or around my upper stomach.”

A conventional push wheel is how this biomedical engineering student gets around.

He said, “Which is push to go forward, pull to go backwards.” 

But, there’s a slicker version of wheels he wants people on wheelchairs to know about.

“This is pull to go forwards, push to go backward,” demonstrated Mitchell. 

That’s a major shift for wheelchair users.

He said, “I was basically told your shoulders are going to be shot growing up. They are going to be damaged, they are going to be painful so looking at any sort of technology that can help alleviate that is very exciting.”

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The latest high-tech wheels could reduce the prevalence of shoulder injuries. 

“These wheels transfer the load of the actual pushing motion from smaller muscles on the front of the shoulder to larger muscles on the back,” he stated.

Mitchell is leading a group of students in wheelchairs who are testing that potential benefit. 

“Mainly, we are looking for the muscle activity,” said Prof. Krystyna Gielo-Perczak, who is a guiding force. 

“Different persons will have a completely different image,” she said. “In general, we are hoping that we can validate these wheels, prove that they are better and hopefully bring them to people’s attention.”

These new devices are aimed at improving quality of life. 

Prof. Gielo-Perczak said,”They should feel the part of the wheelchair like a part of themselves. I’m trying to prove that we are very diverse and we need to appreciate our individual capacities.”

Mitchell added, “How many times do you see a wheelchair and think that needs to be improved?” 

This semester, the research will involve more wheelbound students. 

The hope is that it will lead to an ergonomic revolution to decrease injury among users.