|Jack Charlesworth. Photo courtesy|
of Sherrie Petty
Tuesday, April 17, 2018
Horses have always been a part of Jack Charlesworth’s life. Naturally, he settled into the field of equine sciences at Utah State University, where he is now a senior. He also volunteers with USU’s Equine Experience program, which uses horses in therapeutic and educational activities.
The field has made a particular impact on Charlesworth, who had a spinal infection that has required the use of a wheelchair for as long as he can remember. He has been riding horses since before he can remember, too. Riding has given him more than freedom; it has also made him feel better physically.
“I love horses,” he said. “I get to leave my chair at the side of the arena.”
The sand in the arena used by USU’s Equine-Assisted Activities & Therapies program is specially designed so that wheelchairs like his can maneuver through it. It has chopped-up, recycled sneakers in it to help wheelchairs get a grip on the surface. But even with the high-tech sand, Charlesworth’s manual wheelchair ran into some problems.
His equine science program includes ground work: grooming and training. It was tricky, though; if he operated his manual chair with one hand and held a tool in the other, the chair turned in circles.
He had the same problem when leading a horse; if one hand held the lead while the other worked the wheelchair, the chair tended to turn. The manual chair also limited him when he groomed horses; it was too low for him to reach as high on the horse as he needed to.
So Charlesworth and leaders from Equine-Assisted Activities and Therapies turned to the Utah Assistive Technology Program, located in the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University. AT Laboratory Coordinator Clay Christensen and a team of volunteers drew up plans for a modified power chair.
They began with two chairs, one of which was cannibalized to provide needed parts. They found some longer bolts and bolted wheels together, so that both drive wheels were twice as wide. The team also modified the chair’s back castors to make them wider. “It took a little welding, a little thinking outside the box, a little trial and error,” said Christensen. It also took the help of volunteers Mike Stokes and Todd McGregor. “It was a little bit of everybody.”
The result is a chair with fat wheels for driving over sand, and hydraulics that allow Jack to raise himself up a foot to groom horses.
The result has helped Charlesworth a lot in his arena work. “It allows me to move through the arena more freely, without getting stuck in the dirt,” he said. “It’s a lot more fluid in the power chair.”
The benefits of the new chair won’t stop with Jack. He is now looking into adding an Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies minor to his field of study, so that he can work with people who could benefit from equine therapy. The power chair will help with his minor, too.
“It [equine therapy] has helped me in the past,” he said. The benefits of being on a horse and experiencing the movement has not only reduced his symptoms, but made him feel better in general. “I want to use that to help others.”
Jack has volunteered with the program. “Many people in this field started as volunteers,” said Judy Smith, director of Equine and Human Sciences at USU. She is glad that Charlesworth can help them pioneer ways to make their programs more accessible to participants with disabilities. “Jack is really going to be our eyes and ears to be inclusive in the community.”
For more information about the Utah Assistive Technology Lab, contact Clay Christensen.
For more about the USU Equine Experience and its programs for the community, contact Judy Smith.
To find out more about the Equine-Assisted Activities & Therapies minor, contact Caisa Shoop.
Thursday, March 8, 2018
Jacob, a child with cortical visual impairment, is getting a better understanding of cause and effect, thanks to a toy with a big red switch. The modification to his automated toy was done at the Assistive Technology Lab at Utah State University in Roosevelt.
"Jacob has a vision impairment called CVI, so he doesn't see as well as the rest of us," said his mother, Cami Cook. With CVI, the brain has difficulty interpreting what the eyes see. Jacob takes longer to focus on an object, but he likes music.
Cami wanted him to be able to operate a toy that lights up and plays a song--two things that would attract his attention and help him focus. She also wanted Jacob to be able to activate the toy himself--something that was hard for him to do with the manufacturer's little built-in switch.
She took the project to Cameron Cressall, who coordinates the AT Lab at Utah State University in Roosevelt.
He opened the toy up and hard-wired a plug into the motor, drilling holes into the plastic so that the plug sat flush with the toy. The switch connects to the plug, and the toy is activated by a simple push of the hand. "A child that doesn't have the ability to interact with a toy with a little switch can play with it another way."
Cami said that with lights and music to attract his attention, Jacob is focusing more quickly. "He's starting to reach for the button," she said. "We're learning cause and effect."
Friday, February 9, 2018
|Dr. Satheesh Kumar and Clay Christensen work on|
equipment at the AT Lab in Logan.
They studied it and created their own strategy around it.
Kumar directs the Centre for Assistive Technology and Innovation in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India. This week, he visited the AT Lab in Logan, learning more about its demonstration and loan program and the computer center.
While CATI's focus is early intervention, it has many of the same interests as UATP. Demonstrations and loans are important in India, he said; a healthy demo and loan program helps people make sure that the AT they buy is really the best option for them, and the best use of their money. People with disabilities in India typically have little money to use in buying AT.
"Awareness and training of people with disabilities and caregivers is our first priority," he said. "Our challenges are number one, creating awareness, and number two is selecting the right product."
Kumar also hopes to see the assistive technology industry grow in India. It will take technology development, turning that technology into products, manufacturing, sales and distribution, and after-sales support. "All of these are important, and in India, these are all missing," he said. The economy in India has not encouraged the development of AT on its own; people with disabilities typically do not have the dollars to spend on AT, so manufacturers don't find the sector attractive.
In the United States, the Tech Act is in place to promote the use of assistive technology. India does not have an equivalent, Dr. Kumar said, though laws in the last two years have placed greater emphasis on accessibility and accommodation for people with disabilities.
Kumar's visit to the Logan AT Lab and the CReATE program in Salt Lake City were part of a multi-stop tour to gain more information on how assistive technology is addressed in the US. He toured AT programs in several states and attended the Assistive Technology Industry Association conference that took place at the end of January in Orlando, Florida.
The Centre for Assistive Technology and Innovation in India started two years ago, at a time when the country is placing greater emphasis on providing accommodations for people with disabilities. It is located in the National Institute of Speech and Hearing, which has operated since 1997.
"NISH is being converted into a national central university," Kumar said. This progress comes amid encouraging changes in Indian society. "The previous practice was to hide disability within the family," he said. "That is changing. ... Now they are being cared for and educated."
Monday, February 5, 2018
|Kenny Lawrence and Mac Keel, on the day the basket was delivered.|
That's where a basket would come in handy. Kenny Lawrence used to have two of them on his scooter, but when he gave it to the Assistive Technology Lab in Roosevelt and received a refurbished wheelchair, his new-to-him wheels came without a basket. It was just the right job for the lab's new, young volunteer.
The AT Lab in Roosevelt is part of the Utah Assistive Technology Program at the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University.
Mac Keel is a Union High School student who has volunteered at the Roosevelt AT Lab since the beginning of the school year. When Kenny suggested they add a basket to the back of the wheelchair, Mac brainstormed some ideas, then went to work.
"He got it welded up on his own," said Cameron Cressall, Roosevelt AT Lab coordinator.
Amelia Garner, Mac's teacher, has seen the effect his volunteer work has had on him at school. "Hands on work is what he wants to do for his job, so this is really great training," she said. "I think this is building his self-confidence and his self-esteem. And Cameron is so good to work with."
Cameron, who spent a busy fall and winter at the AT Lab, has been glad for Mac's help. "He's been really great. He stays busy and follows instructions."
Kenny said the finished project should fill the need. "I think it's going to work pretty good," he said. "It's easy to put on."
Tuesday, January 16, 2018
After six years in her current wheelchair, Kim Maibaum is on track to get a new one. But first she needed some adjustments to make sure the current chair would last that long.
She came to the Assistive Technology Lab in Logan to meet with Lab Coordinator Clay Christensen. The AT Lab team replaced her wheels and wheel bearings, which were in very rough shape. Christensen also brought in a rehabilitation specialist from Norco, who will eventually get her into a new chair.
The Logan Assistive Technology Lab is part of the Utah Assistive Technology Program, located in the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University. Its mission is to help people with disabilities be more independent through the use of AT. In Maibaum's case, the AT Lab helped customize her wheelchair so it worked for her.
Indeed, Maibaum, her current chair and the AT Lab have been on a long path together. In fact, when it was brand new Maibaum did not use it, because it needed some modifications.
Christensen made some adjustments to the seating. Since then he has continued making basic repairs, reutilizing parts from the AT Lab. Today, Maibaum's power chair is a rolling Frankenstein collection of various wheelchairs. The time has definitely come to replace it, but the process will likely take two to three months, said Troy Gilbert of Norco. (The time between ordering and receiving a chair varies, depending on the insurance and the number of health care professionals who are consulted in the process.)
Last month's repairs helped ensure Maibaum will keep rolling into the future.
|Christensen and others in the AT Lab work with Maibaum.|
Friday, December 8, 2017
An electric blanket that plugs into a wheelchair makes it easier for a woman to go to winter events at night
|Julie Norman at the American Festival Chorus and Orchestra Christmas Concert|
Julie Norman used to avoid going outside at night in the winter. Even when she was bundled in a blanket, it was just too cold in her wheelchair. It took too long for a quilt to store her body heat and reflect it back to her, so just getting out to the car was a freezing experience.
"When my driving arm gets cold, I can't drive," she said, referring to the arm she uses to operate her wheelchair's joystick.
She called Logan AT Lab Coordinator Clay Christensen and asked if there would be any way to install an electric blanket on her chair. It would provide heat a lot faster than a quilt.
They discussed the possibilities. Her wheelchair did have a power outlet, similar to the cigarette lighter outlet found in cars. But the wheelchair's power source was 24 volts instead of the 12 volts available in an automobile. And while it was possible to find a 12-volt electric blanket, it wouldn't work with the wheelchair's outlet--not without overheating and possibly burning up wires.
Christensen told her to come to the lab, and he brought in volunteers Mike Stokes and Todd McGregor. Norman came with her parents, bringing an electric blanket she'd found online. It was intended for use in a car.
|AT lab staff work on Julie's chair to adapt its power outlet and add a side mirror.|
Together Christensen and the volunteers worked to adapt Norman's chair so that it would work safely with a 12-volt electric blanket. They shortened up the power cord so it wouldn't be a safety hazard. And while she was there, they added a mirror to her wheelchair so Norman could view things on her left side--something she had trouble doing before without physically turning her chair.
The blanket would be a good change, she said. "This will generate heat, instead of just trapping my own." Now she could go outside for short trips in her wheelchair. She was especially looking forward to the American Festival Chorus and Orchestra's Christmas Concert on the USU campus.
That happened Thursday, and it was a glorious event, complete with the chorus and orchestra, the Westminster Bell Choir, and Utah's own singing trio, Gentri.
It was a moment no music lover would want to miss--and with a little more warmth and some help from her friends in the AT Lab, she didn't have to.
|Utah's own singing trio, Gentri, performs with the American Festival Chorus and Orchestra.|
Tuesday, December 5, 2017
|Roy and Shawna Mounteer|
"I was pretty distraught over the whole thing," he said. "It takes a lot out of you when you're as active as I was. ... I didn't know where to go or who to talk to. It hit so fast."
His wife, Shawna, spoke to someone at the hospital and learned of the Assistive Technology Lab on the Roosevelt campus at Utah State University. The lab is part of the Utah Assistive Technology Program at the Center for Persons with Disabilities.
"Next thing I know, here's this man knocking on my door with this chair."
Cameron Cressall, the Roosevelt AT Lab coordinator, responded to the call with assistive technology, and more. "He has gone above and beyond the call of duty to make things bearable at the house for me," Ray said.
Cressall came two or three times, helping them with a motorized wheelchair, a handrail for the shower and a manual wheelchair that they could put in the car and take to the store. It was important to Ray to have a wheelchair that could go into the car, since he and his wife do everything together.
"He made it so easy for me to adapt to this condition, and now that I'm getting better and my legs are working again, he gave me words of wisdom and moral support," Ray said.
"They seem much happier. It's been wonderful seeing this transformation in their lives," said Cressall.
Clay Christensen, Logan's AT Lab coordinator, said both AT labs can make life easier for people who experience a temporary need for assistive technology. While he was not involved in the Mounteers' case, he has seen many people whose lives were made easier with loaned equipment, like a wheelchair or hand rail. "A lot of times, if somebody is temporarily rendered without the use of their legs, insurance will not provide them with a chair, whether it is a manual wheelchair or an electric one," he said. "They will be denied but they will still need mobility. ... There are a great many people out there who are needlessly going without or suffering, that if they were aware of our services could be provided with the equipment that they need."
The AT Labs and independent living centers around Utah help in those situations. Both Utah AT Labs have equipment loan banks. "If people come to us, we can pull our resources together."
"It definitely made a difference in our lives," said Shawna. "Ray was able to be part of our family, to get out. ... He became a completely different person."
If you need equipment, or if you have used equipment you would like to donate, call UATP at 800.524.5152.