The meaning of environmental control systems (ECS) for people with spinal cord injury: An occupational therapist explores an intervention

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Verdonck, Michèle Claire
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University College Cork
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Environmental Control Systems (ECS), enable people with high cervical Spinal Cord Injury (high SCI) to control and access everyday electronic devices. In Ireland, however, access for those who might benefit from ECS is limited. This study used a qualitative approach to explore the insider experience of an ECS starter-pack developed by the author, an occupational therapist. The primary research questions: what is it really like to live with ECS, and what does it mean to live with ECS, were explored using a phenomenological methodology conducted in three phases. In Phase 1 fifteen people with high SCI met twice in four focus groups to discuss experiences and expectations of ECS. Thematic analysis (Krueger & Casey, 2000), influenced by the psychological phenomenological approach (Creswell, 1998), yielded three categories of rich, practical, phenomenological findings: ECS Usage and utility; ECS Expectations and The meaning of living with ECS. Phase 1 findings informed Phase 2 which consisted of the development of a generic electronic assistive technology pack (GrEAT) that included commercially available constituents as well as short instructional videos and an information booklet. This second phase culminated in a one-person, three-week pilot trial. Phase 3 involved a six person, 8-week trial of the GrEAT, followed by individual in-depth interviews. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis IPA (Smith, Larkin & Flowers, 2009), aided by computer software ATLAS.ti and iMindmap, guided data analysis and identification of themes. Getting used to ECS, experienced as both a hassle and engaging, resulted in participants being able to Take back a little of what you have lost, which involved both feeling enabled and reclaiming a little doing. The findings of this study provide substantial insights into what it is like to live with ECS and the meanings attributed to that experience. Several practical, real world implications are discussed.
Environmental control systems (ECS) , Electronic aids to daily living (EADL) , Assistive technology , Spinal cord injury , Interpretative phenomenological analysis
Verdonck, M.C, 2012. The meaning of environmental control systems (ECS) for people with spinal cord injury: An occupational therapist explores an intervention. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.