From the dorm room to classrooms: USU students experience assistive technology

How two students at Utah State University are embracing college with the help assistive technology.

By: Bennett Purser

As most students graduate high school with ambitions of college, those with intellectual disabilities have fewer options to make the transition from high school to higher education or a career. But at Utah State University, a college education for these students is becoming a reality with the new program Aggies Elevated and its use of assistive technology. 

A fully inclusive, two-year post-secondary education certificate program,
Aggies Elevated is one of fewer than 250 such programs in the country to bring a college experience, and the necessary devices, 
to students transitioning from high school special education services. Housed in the Center for Persons with Disabilities, a unit of the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services, the program is the only of its kind in the state of Utah.

But for Natalie and Amity, two of the eight students in the program, assistive technology devices are impacting everything from their dorm room to their classroom, making the adjustment a lot easier. Along with learning to live away from home, attending class, joining clubs and watching college football, their iPads have become part of their daily campus routine.

Natalie, who hopes to study in the arts, has not only utilized her new iPad for creative purposes, but uses its innovative educational features. While reading “Frankestein” by Mary Shelley, the required reading for all USU incoming freshman, Natalie said listening to the audio book on her iPad helped her to grasp the content. 

“It does flip the page by itself, it highlights the words and that’s actually how I understand Frankenstein,” she said. “It was actually a really great listen.”

She also frequents the iPad’s ‘speech to text function,’ while taking notes during lectures. This allows her to vocally record information thats translated into text and saved automatically for studying.

Amity, who struggled with navigating from class to class, created a virtual map of her route with the help of a Go-Pro camera. Now she watches videos of her destinations on her iPad as she makes her daily treks across campus. 

She also uses an app that assists with making sure she accomplishes all of her daily priorities. By setting alarms to remind her to do her homework, even to turn it in, her iPad helps her to remember all the small details. 

“I have really bad short term memory loss, so the only way I can get anything to click or make sense is by a checklist,” she said. “So if I’m making my bed, I have sheets and then covers, and the pillow.”

Uploaded to the app are photos of Amity performing all of her morning steps, from making her bed, to grabbing her backpack and breakfast before she leaves her dorm room, there’s a checklist for everything. 

With a passion for music, Amity is also an avid writer, and guitar and piano player. She’s turned to her new iPad to record music and videos of her performances.

As Natalie and Amity continue their first semester, they’re engaged in all the great aspects of college. From joining clubs and discovering their interests, and certainly their education, they’re doing it all with assistive technology.

Free online webinar: EagleEyes: Eye-Control Mouse Technology

The Utah Assistive Technology Program will present 
a FREE online interactive training of 
“Eagle Eyes: Eye-Control Mouse Technology,” 
on Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014 from 3:00 – 4:30 p.m. MST.

The innovative technology of EagleEyes allows individuals to control a computer mouse simply with the movement of their eyes. Developed at Boston College, the eye-controlled computer mouse makes using a computer possible for individuals unable to properly use their hands for standard computer use. 

It is a unique device that serves a specific demographic of individuals who experience limited dexterity or complete paralysis, and/or lack full purposeful head movement. 
Because of its unique technology, it’s a device that will work for many individuals when other devices have failed. 

How it works:

By placing electrodes around the user’s eyes, the computer detects their eye movement and gives them the ability to control the computer’s mouse with the actions and rotations of the eye. It also allows for free head motion and can actually be augmented with purposeful head movements. 
EagleEyes can be used for recreation, communication and education. 

Developed at Boston College 20 years ago, there are over 270 systems distributed throughout the U.S. and Canada. Since 2006, this life changing technology has been available to the public, manufactured and distributed by The Opportunity Foundation of America, a 501(c)3 nonprofit.  

Andrew Loeffler will be presenting the webinar. He is the Director of Operations for The Opportunity Foundation of America, the sole manufacturer, distributor and trainer of the EagleEyes technology. Andrew has experience as an educator as a Chief Flight Instructor and adjunct faculty at Utah Valley University, where he developed unique and innovative curriculum and implemented standardization of teaching and training. 

He has been involved with the EagleEyes Project for three years starting out as a volunteer before becoming Project Developer and Director of Operations to enhance the service, support and accessibility of the EagleEyes technology. His background in business, technology and education brings a unique perspective to the special needs community. 

Join us to learn how EagleEyes works, how to use its service, the audience it serves, its comparison to other devices and how it’s being used in schools, homes and care centers to change lives, that in many cases, have never been able experience the operation of a computer. In order to participate, you will need a computer with high-speed Internet access. 


If you are interested in joining please RSVP by Tuesday, Sept. 30thContact Storee Powell via email, or call 435-797-7412. Participant instructions will be emailed to you.

If you are a screen reader user, or need any other accommodations in order to participate in the training, please contact UATP Program Director Sachin Pavithran at 435-797-6572 or, no later than Monday, Sept. 29th to make arrangements to participate via phone. Please feel free to pass on this information to anyone that you think might be interested.

Zombie Walk to benefit Options

Oct. 4th is the Zombie Walk/Run fundraiser for Options for Independence at Willow Park.

Options for Independence in Logan is an Independent Living Center providing many services to people with disabilities in Cache Valley. Help them during this spooktacular fundraiser Oct. 10th and sign up for the annual Zombie Walk. Costumes encouraged!

Mark you calendars: UCAT's assistive technology open house

The Utah Center for Assistive Technology will hold an open house on Thursday, October 1st, from 3:00 to 6:00 pm, showcasing the latest in assistive technology devices. 

With demonstrations and service information from over 20 vendors, this year’s event will feature everything from keyboard and mouse alternatives, to mobility assistance such the GoBabyGo ride-on cars for children disabilities and refurbished wheelchairs from CReATE.

Participants can also learn about voice activation equipment, software programs to assist students, children and adults with disabilities, augmentative communication devices, home modification options and information about funding for assistive technology devices.

Individuals with disabilities, their families and service providers are invited to attend the open house. The Center is located at 1595 West 500 South in Salt Lake City. Light refreshments will be served. You don't want to miss out on this exciting and educational experience. 

United Way of Cache Valley lends helping hand in Technology Lab

By Bennett Purser

On Thursday, the United Way of Cache Valley presented the National Day of Caring, in honor of Sept. 11. They invited service volunteers across the valley to lend helping hands to non-profits of their choice. The Utah Assistive Technology Program was lucky enough to have three great volunteers join Clay Christensen, coordinator of our Assistive Technology lab.

The volunteers went right to work with Clay, building a ramp for a client who contacted us about a need to make her home accessible for her wheelchair. The volunteers visited her apartment early that morning to assess the measurements and meet the client. Afterwards they went straight back to lab to begin building from scratch. 

"We came here thinking we were going to be cleaning the lab," said volunteer Stacy Newman. "But we broke out the power tools so it was cool and she was very grateful."

Employed by Stevens-Henagar College, Newman and her colleagues Eli Smith and Nikki Godfrey, work in the admissions department. They described their work as often helping students, which led to them wanting to further their assistance to the community.
Newman said that her team tries to get together for a day of service at least once a year. 

They participated in every detail of the creation of the ramp, from measuring and sawing the wood, then piecing them together before painting it navy blue.

"We like to help people so its kind of in our nature to do that," said Newman. "Little things are what make people grateful and you never know when you're going to affect somebody's life and change them for the best."

School Tools: SmartPen for learning disabilities

By Kent Remund

Q shows Bond a super pen.
Q would be impressed with the SmartPen.
Growing up, I loved James Bond movies. My favorite scene in each movie was when he would visit “Q” in the lab to see the latest gadget that had been created for James to use. 

When I first saw the Livescribe SmartPen, I was placed in the moment feeling like I was visiting “Q”. This pen has become one of the most demonstrated and recommended pieces of assistive technology for students within the complete range of learning disabilities. What makes this pen so great?

LiveScribe SmartPen
The LiveScribe SmartPen is a great tool
for people with learning disabilities.
While the SmartPen allows you to take traditional ink notes, it also has the ability to capture audio simultaneously while taking notes. Here’s where the real magic happens: the pen is combining written notes and anchoring them with the audio happening at that exact moment, bookmarking it for later. What does this mean? 

This allows you to go back in your written notes and tap on something written, and the pen will playback the audio from that exact recording within the pen. No need to search through hours of a recording. The pen requires special paper that has thousands of dots that the pen uses to track writing and anchor it to the audio that it records.  

How is this such a powerful tool for people with learning disabilities? For many, it is completely transforming the way they pay attention in class, retain information, process information and study using the audio from notes they have taken.  

We teach the individual to keep key notes during a lecture while are paying attention rather than worrying about keeping overly detailed notes. For most students with learning disabilities, auditory learning is their biggest strength and most struggle with the stress of keeping accurate written notes. This pen allows a student to go home and play back audio from a specific point to help retain the information that we being presented. 

The Livescribe pen can be purchased at many major retailers such as Office Depot, Staples, Office Max and online from A 2 gigabyte pen can store up to 200 hours of audio and is reasonably priced at approximately $120.00. The paper that is required for the pen costs $20.00 for four books.  

The pen does so much more and must be seen to believe - this YouTube video demonstrates the pen in action.

This video shows how students with dyslexia are using the pen to be successful in class.

Please contact me if you would like a demonstration, be evaluated or have questions regarding the SmartPen. There are a couple different versions of the pen and we can help determine which one would be best for you.

Kent Remund is part of the Utah Center for Assistive Technology serving Utahns with disabilities, and a member of the Utah Assistive Technology Teams serving Utah school districts, helping people with disabilities identify and obtain assistive technology that will enhance the quality of their lives. 

Upcoming training on serving people with disabilities from various cultures

A free training, A Guide to Success: Serving People with Disabilities of Various Cultures, is coming soon by the Center for Persons with Disabilities at USU along with UCASA, UDVC, the Sanderson Center and Human Capabilities.

Topics will include:

  • Assumptions, Stereotypes and Generalizations
  • Culture and Cultural Competency
  • Communicating with People who have Various Types of Disabilities
  • Service Animals and Other Accommodations
  • Effects of Violence and Trauma on Disability
  • Response to Victims with Disabilities 

USU Brigham City, 265 W 1100 S, Miller Bldg. Room 164, Brigham City, on September 18th from 1:00 – 3:00.  

USU Extension/Health Dept., 151 North Main, Room 180, Tooele, on September 23th from 1:00 to 3:00

Please RSVP to Lynelle at or 435-797-8807.