Appraisals of robotic locomotor exoskeletons for gait: focus group insights from potential users with spinal cord injuries

Allen W. Heinemann*, Dominique Lynn Kinnett-Hopkins, Chaithanya K. Mummidisetty, Rachel A. Bond, Linda Ehrlich-Jones, Catherine Furbish, Edelle Field-Fote, Arun Jayaraman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Purpose: To describe appraisals of robotic exoskeletons for locomotion by potential users with spinal cord injuries, their perceptions of device benefits and limitations, and recommendations for manufacturers and therapists regarding device use. Materials and methods: We conducted focus groups at three regional rehabilitation hospitals and used thematic analysis to define themes. Results: Across four focus groups, 35 adults participated; they were predominantly middle-aged, male, and diverse in terms of race and ethnicity, well educated, and not working. Participants had been living with SCI an average of two decades. Most participants were aware of exoskeletons. Some were enthusiastic about the usability of the devices while others were more circumspect. They had many questions about device affordability and usability, and were discerning in their appraisal of benefits and suitability to their particular circumstances. They reflected on device cost, the need for caregiver assistance, use of hands, and environmental considerations. They weighed the functional benefits relative to the cost of preferred activities. Their recommendations focused on cost, battery life, and independent use. Conclusions: Potential users’ appraisals of mobility technology reflect a nuanced appreciation of device costs; functional, social, and psychological benefits; and limitations. Results provide guidance to therapists and manufacturers regarding device use.Implications for Rehabilitation Potential users of robotic locomotor exoskeletons with spinal cord injuries appreciate the functional, social, and psychological benefits that these devices may offer. Their appraisals reflect nuanced consideration of device cost and features, and the suitability of the assistive technology to their circumstances. They recommend that manufacturers focus on reducing cost, extending battery life, and features that allow independent use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)762-772
Number of pages11
JournalDisability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 2 2020


  • Exoskeleton device
  • assistive technology
  • focus groups
  • outcome
  • rehabilitation
  • spinal cord injury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Rehabilitation
  • Speech and Hearing


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