Wheelchair users’ experiences with and need of activity trackers

Tina Helle, Kirstine Rosenbeck

Research output: Contribution to journalConference abstract in journalpeer-review


Background: The use of different kinds of activity trackers, e.g. step counters, has become popular to monitor one’s physical activity level. A typical goal for users is to evaluate whether public health recommendations stated by health authorities are met. Given a sedentary lifestyle, wheelchair users are particularly challenged when it comes to the performance of physical activity. However, activity trackers on the market are not applicable for wheelchair users. Obviously, steps are not a valid measure, but research suggest that other measures such as heart rate, wheel rotation and arm acceleration also have limitations. Yet, wheelchair users still use activity trackers, and their experiences are key to developing better technology.
The aim was to investigate: What are the wheelchair users’ experiences of using current technological devices for activity tracking and, what are their requirements for future valid and meaningful activity tracking?
Method: A focus group interview was conducted, involving N=7 wheelchair users; one woman and seven men in the age of 24-49. Participants were sampled thorough a wheelchair users basketball club. The focus group lasted for one hour. A semi-structured interview guide was developed to guide the interview. A content analysis was performed by the authors, first separately, then together to reach consensus and validate the findings.
Key results: Wheelchair users have some positive experiences with activity tracking using GPS-data e.g. some tracked whether the relationship between distance and time improved. However, they experienced that distance and time are the only parameters that are correctly measured, whereas calorie consumption, pulse, step and training intensity are not appropriately measured. The wheelchair users especially noted that some activity trackers provide reminders that assume that the user can walk, such as “it is time to get up and move around”, which they considered meaningless. The wheelchair users experienced an un-met need to evaluate whether their overall physical activity was sufficient or whether they were too inactive, but none of the technologies that they had utilized, could provide this information, which includes exercise training as well as daily household tasks. In addition, the wheelchair users suggested that it would be motivating to compare current and previous achievements and compete with oneself and others.
A surprising finding was that wheelchair users experienced a need of understanding their own typical pulse alterations, to be able to prevent dizziness related to performance of physical activity. In addition, the wheelchair users were concerned that physical activity measures could be used against them and become a barrier for granting assistive technology.
Conclusion: Sound activity trackers are needed, specifically designed for wheelchair users. The benefits hereof are evident from a public health perspective, because we might identify wheelchair users with low physical activity levels. In an assistive technology perspective, appropriate use of information provided by activity trackers should be considered to avoid distrust among wheelchair users. In summary, activity tracking may be valuable for wheelchair users, health care and society at large. Future research should account for the limitations of this study i.e. few participants limited to basketball players.

Keywords: activity tracking, wheelchair users.
*Corresponding author. E-mail: [email protected]

Tweetable abstract: A focus group interview aimed at exploring activity trackers applicability for wheelchair users. We found a need for sound activity trackers, specifically designed for wheelchair users. This has the potential to inform public health interventions for this target group.

Original languageEnglish
JournalTechnology and Disability
Issue numberIssue 1, Supplement 1
Pages (from-to)S130-S131
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - 2019
EventAAATE 2019 - Bologna, Bologna, Italy
Duration: 27 Aug 201930 Aug 2019
Conference number: 15


ConferenceAAATE 2019


  • occupational therapy
  • activity tracking
  • wheelchair users

Cite this