My Research at a Glance
My primary program of research is located at the intersection of health, aging and place. As a social gerontologist and qualitative health researcher, my work explores aging from a critical perspective to challenge assumptions about aging and disability, re-imagine practices and policies in community and care settings, and develop new ways of knowing that prioritize the lived experience of older adults. Three areas of scholarship summarize my critical health research: community mobility, place, and methodological innovation.
Introduction: Community Mobility
A central focus of my research is community mobility. Community mobility refers to an individual’s ability to get to medical appointments, travel to grocery stores, visit friends and family, and attend community events. Community mobility is essential for daily living and a determinant of full citizenry and good health for older people. Using a critical perspective, my work prioritizes the often neglected social, cultural and environmental factors implicated in community mobility such as social identity, stigma and social engagement (Gardner, 2014).
A major contribution of this program of research is the concept of ‘mobility aid personalization’ (MAPx). The MAPx research examines the process of personalizing a mobility device to meet individual needs and preferences, contributing “new” insights into some “old” (i.e., ongoing) problems in public health including falls, inactivity and social isolation. The unique contribution that this reframing of our understanding and assumptions about community mobility makes has been recognized; a reviewer of the MAPx manuscript (Gardner, 2016) remarked in their response - “This is an excellent paper… puts a different spin on the meaning of function in the rehabilitation literature…” My program of research on community mobility has also been acknowledged and supported through a Planning and Dissemination Grant from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR, 2016).
Re-inventing the Wheel: A think tank to optimize community mobility
Funded by: Canadian Institutes for Health Research
Principle Investigator: Paula Gardner, PhD (Brock University)
Co-investigators: Rudman, D., Treviranus, J., Fels, D., Alvaro, C., Dutta, T.
The overarching goal of our research team is to promote quality of life and full citizenship among older adults with mobility impairments. Key to the success of this initiative is the advancement of knowledge and its translation on how to optimize community mobility for older adults transitioning from independent mobility to the need for, and use of, a mobility device. To help us achieve this goal we propose a planning meeting among mobility experts and stakeholders to scope the current state of knowledge, identify strategies to mobilize knowledge, and generate directions for moving scholarship forward in this area. The specific objectives for the meeting are:
What do we know?
1. To identify, discuss and summarize, from various perspectives (e.g., policy, clinical, personal, research), the key factors that influence the adoption and use of a mobility device by older adult users.
2.To share knowledge of strategies, technologies and ideas that facilitate a positive relationship between older adults and mobility devices.
How can we use what we know?
3. To identify effective ways to mobilize knowledge into change at various levels (design, manufacturing, funding, clinical practice).
How can we improve/build on what we know?
4. To develop innovative ways to study the issue including the impact of new approaches aimed at optimizing community mobility for older adults who require mobility devices.
5. To discuss alternatives and options for designing, developing or improving technologies that support or improve community mobility for older adults.
Due to our cross-disciplinary and collaborative approach and our commitment to the involvement of ‘end users’ (including older adults), we anticipate this meeting will: a) have an immediate impact on the ways in which participants negotiate, make decisions, and practice their ‘craft’ (be it clinical, policy, or research), and b) launch a long-term, sustainable research program that addresses socio-cultural, structural and behavioural aspects related to mobility device adoption and use and successfully promotes a positive relationship between older adults and their devices that, ultimately, will improve quality of life for this population.
This innovative and timely project seeks to address a key concern and research gap in mobility research – how to optimize community mobility by fostering a positive relationship between older adults and their (new) mobility devices.
MAPx (Mobility Aid Personalization) Project
This project explores the process of mobility aid personalization and how it impacts the health and well-being of older adults. Since the non-use of mobility aids among the older adult population is a significant problem with serious adverse effects, research to understand why some use and others refuse their mobility devices is needed.
The project revealed two key findings:
Older adults personalize their mobility devices for reasons of function (physical context) and fashion (aesthetics and personal preferences). It also included the performance and preservation of identity (ethnicity, profession).
The impact of selecting or modifying a mobility device to suit individual needs and preferences facilitated device-acceptance, promoted physical and social participation, and provided a 'place' to perform and preserve identity among participants.
The Mobility Project Blog
I’m a health advocate, researcher, educator and social observer. I think some of the most important secrets and lessons in life can be found in the small spaces — the spaces between spaces and the everyday public places where we live, work and play. So I pay attention, listen, and watch these spaces… and it rocks my world every day!
The Mobility Project is about movement – about people getting where they want to go and how they got there. It’s about engaging people and sparking a dialogue about bodies & barriers, resilience & resistance, passion & determination, creativity & courage, stigma & disability. Join me for the ride!
"I Like Your Ride!"
This ongoing project is a fun way to conduct some mobility aid personalization research as I go about my life. I'm fascinated by the ways in which people "pimp their rides" and why they do it. Anytime I see someone has personalized their "ride" I interview them for their story to see why they do it and open with, "I like your ride!" to break the ice and get the conversation going. About 9 out of 10 times people are willing to share their stories with me, and sometimes I'm lucky enough to record the interview!
I've come across some really cool rides (and people) through this project. Take a look on the Mobility Project Blog to see the amazing things I've encountered!
Mobility Games is a multi-project endeavour dedicated to crafting and exploring multiplayer, mixed reality entertainment for people who use mobility devices. As a member of the project team, Paula Gardner acts as a researcher, bringing her expertise in participatory, community-based and critical qualitative methodologies with an emphasis on mobility device use and active transportation for seniors and people with disabilities.
The area of entertainment for mobility device users has received little attention from the gaming industry and service providers. We are interested in designing and researching multiplayer interactive and mixed reality games and applications for mobility device users and their friends and families. We seek to advance our understanding of mobility users’ device use for entertainment, social play and personal well-being. As a lab that specializes in accessible technology and media, our approach is inclusive, participatory, user-centric and mixed methods-focused.
Learn more about the project here.