A guide to accessible voting in Utah

photo of woman holding "vote" signs
By Nate Crippes
Staff attorney, Disability Law Center

“The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men.” – Lyndon B. Johnson

Voting is an immensely important act.  Democracy relies on each and every citizen using their vote as their voice.  Since democracy relies on every citizen, it is also very important that every citizen have access to the polls.  Thankfully, the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) did a lot to ensure that polling places meet the needs of everyone. 

However, because voting is also an incredibly personal act, access alone is not enough.  HAVA says that each person must be able to vote as privately and independently as any other person.  That is why HAVA requires each polling place to have an immensely important piece of assistive technology, an accessible voting machine.

Now, some of you may have already received a notice about voting by mail this election season.  At this time, 21 of Utah’s 29 counties have moved to vote by mail this year.  So what does this mean for those who may require an accessible voting machine to vote independently and privately? 

The counties that have moved to vote by mail usually have a few polling places available on Election Day.  Contact your county clerk for more information on this.

If you happen to live in a county that does traditional voting rather than vote by mail, you will also have the option to vote early at some polling locations.  These locations will also have an accessible voting machine.  For more information on early voting contact your county clerk’s office. 

If you need help finding your polling place, go to vote.utah.gov

If you experience any problems with voting on Election Day, whether by mail or traditional means, the Disability Law Center (DLC) will have a voting hotline, (800) 662-9080, to answer your questions while polls are open. 

In addition, if you have any questions or concerns about voting prior to Election Day, please do not hesitate to contact the DLC at the same number or at disabilitylawcenter.org

Volunteers help make our world go 'round

Utahns, are you looking for a place to serve? We have three!

The Utah Assistive Technology Program has long taken pride in its volunteers, who have helped us serve Utahns with disabilities for years. We have enjoyed the help of people who have retired but not stopped working; of students and community members; and, most recently, LDS missionaries fulfilling a service requirement.

AT Lab Coordinator Clay Christensen has two messages for those who donate their time to the AT Labs or CReATE: Thank you. And please don't stop.

Lately Christensen has been swamped with wheelchair maintenance requests--perhaps because insurance doesn't always cover the need, maybe because it's hard for patrons to find someone who can do it. He is grateful for the volunteers who help him keep up with the demand while still tending to other aspects of the AT Lab mission: demonstration, training, research and the development of prototype devices that help people with disabilities become more independent.

"It makes a huge difference," he said while two missionaries worked on moving and disassembling wheelchairs. "The labor these guys did today would've taken me five hours." (The two missionaries worked there for two hours that day.)

"It's fun," said Elder Weston, who has been coming twice a week. "It's hands-on, I get to tear things apart, and I help people change their lives."

"It's good to stay busy, and know something good's going to come out of it," said Elder Weston, who worked in the lab at the same time.

They are examples of what CReATE Program Coordinator Tom Boman said is ideal volunteers, because they come in on a regular basis. Boman, too, has benefited from volunteer help, which has eased the demands on his time. The program, based in Salt Lake City, refurbishes used mobility devices and transfers them to people who need them at an affordable cost. CReATE now transfers more than twice the number of devices as it did in 2014.

Volunteers help Boman keep up with the demand and deliver record numbers of mobility devices into the hands of people who need them. CReATE has enjoyed 30 to 50 hours per week of donated time in recent months, but Boman said they could always use more. "Volunteers who are willing to come in on a regular basis can really help us out," he said.

The new AT Lab at USU-Uintah Basin in Roosevelt is already feeling a similar pinch: lots of donated devices that could use some tweaking, lots of need, and not enough hours in a day. Lab Coordinator Cameron Cressall said volunteers would be welcome.

To find out more about volunteering with UATP, contact:

Clay Christensen, Logan Assistive Technology Lab, 435.797.0699
Tom Boman, CReATE, Salt Lake City, 801.877.9398
Cameron Cressall, USU-Uintah Basin AT Lab (Roosevelt) 435.722.1714

Guest post: Pop culture is showing a welcome shift in portrayal of people with disabilities

Photo of Emily Lund
By Dr. Emily Lund
Post-doctoral Fellow, Boston University Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, Boston University
2016 Robins Award Winner, Graduate Researcher of the Year, Utah State University

“Sport doesn’t care who you are,” a 2012 advertisement for Samsung announces, showing video of Paralympic athletes doing pushups, lifting weights, swimming laps, and otherwise training intensely for the upcoming games. The ad is one of many that has come out in recent years from Olympic sponsors, promoting not just able-bodied athletes, but their often-under-recognized Paralympic peers. During the 2016 Olympic games, it was not uncommon to see Paralympians like ten-time wheelchair racing medalist Tatyana McFadden featured alongside Olympians in ads supporting Team USA. As the 2016 Paralympic games start in Rio, increasing recognition, public interest, and media coverage is being given to Paralympians.

Also encouraging is the increasing acknowledgement in the media that Paralympic athletes are just that—world-class, talented, and extremely hardworking athletes. The inspiration narrative of the coverage is shifting from one that focuses solely on impairment to one that acknowledges the extraordinary skill of these competitors.

The increasing and changing media coverage of the Paralympic games in recent years represents a shift, however gradual, in how disability is represented in the media. Historically, people with disabilities have often been portrayed in a one-dimensional manner, seen solely as objects of pity or passive inspiration. Telathons portrayed children with disabilities as people who were incapable of living a good, rich, and meaningful life, and TV shows often cast characters with disabilities for “special episodes” where the person with a disability existed only to teach the main characters a touching life lesson and then to disappear again.

Lost in these portrayals was an acknowledgement of people with disabilities as complete people, with rich and varied hopes, dreams, and experiences. Much like the narrative of Paralympic games, that is now changing, as characters with disabilities become more dynamic parts of the television landscape.

The new ABC comedy, “Speechless,” which premieres September 21, focuses on the life of a teenage boy with cerebral palsy, JJ DiMeo, and his family. The ads for the show don’t sugarcoat the experience of disability—JJ’s mother is shown fiercely advocating for her son’s rights to full inclusion in a public school—but they don’t shy away from portraying JJ as a full person, one who is opinionated, adventurous, and very much a teenage boy. He is shown to be as much of a complex and involved character as any other one in the pilot, despite the fact that he is non-verbal and uses a letter board to communicate. Rather than being someone who merely watches the action unfold, JJ participates in it actively. He is more than a plot point—he is truly a part of the narrative.

“Speechless” represents one example of the new disability narrative that is seen on television. Another such example is the popular HBO show, “Game of Thrones,” which features Tyrion Lannister, a man with dwarfism, as a main character. Throughout the show, Tyrion is given substantial character development, both positive and negative, and while his disability and other people’s reactions to it are an important part of the narrative and his character, he is very much portrayed as a dynamic, complex, and complicated character. Although “Game of Thrones” and Speechless” are very different shows that are aimed at very different audiences, they both represent the increasing willingness of writers to embrace disability and characters with disabilities as central aspects of their shows.  Additionally, both Tyrion—played by the Emmy-winning Peter Dinklage—and JJ—played by relative newcomer Micah Fowler—are portrayed by actors with disabilities, thus embracing the “nothing about us without us” aspect of the disability rights movement.

Similarly, the Emmy-nominated reality TV series, “Born This Way,” on A&E follows the lives of seven young adults with Down Syndrome. Their experiences of disability definitely influence the narrative of the show, but much of what the subjects experience—questions of love, friendship, family, school, and work--is familiar to anyone who’s gone through young adulthood, regardless of disability status. In their willingness to show people with disabilities as fully human, these portrayals allow people with disabilities to be active participants in their own stories.

The changing portrayal of people with disabilities in the media, be it Paralympic athletes, characters in scripted TV shows, or reality TV stars, invites the public to see people with disabilities as people whose stories should be told in full. Furthermore, it allows people with disabilities and their family members, both as participants and viewers, to be part of a richer, more complete conversation about what it means to live with a disability.

USU-Uintah Basin AT Lab Open House brings public, service providers together

photo of a young man on an adapted saddle
This adapted saddle is one of many examplesof assistive technology used to help
a person with disabilities meet his goal.
Utah State University-Uintah Basin and the Utah Assistive Technology Program celebrate their new AT Lab with an open house on September 7.

The event takes place from 4 to 7 p.m. in the Multipurpose room of the Roosevelt Campus, 987 E. Lagoon St., and it will feature information from many different service providers for people with disabilities.

The Assistive Technology Labs in Roosevelt and Logan help find customized solutions—both high- and low-tech—for people with disabilities to meet their goals in employment, education and living independently. They work in partnership with Options for Independence in Logan and Active Re-Entry Independent Living Center in Eastern Utah.

Many different service providers for people with disabilities will participate in the open house. Look for representatives working in early intervention; assistive technology; Agrability (assistive technology for people in agriculture); educators; independent living; alternative communication; services for children with special health care needs (including autism); a low interest loan and small grant program; and CReATE (which provides affordable, refurbished mobility devices to Utahns who need them).

A number of vendors specializing in products and services for people with disabilities will also attend.

For more information, contact: Clay Christensen, lab coordinator in Logan, 435-797-0699
Cameron Cressall, lab coordinator in Roosevelt, at 435-512-6121.

AT Lab brings cashier and customers to same level

photo of Diane handing a receipt to a customer

Thanks to the Assistive Technology Lab at USU-Logan, a friendly cashier can see eye to eye with her customers.

Diane Young of Logan worked through Vocational Rehabilitation to find a job with a large retailer, but her short stature made it hard for her to reach the keypad and interact with shoppers. She needed a platform.

The project was referred to the Assistive Technology Lab, part of the Utah Assistive Technology Program within the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University. From there, Lab Coordinator Clay Christensen and Mike Stokes, a volunteer, set about assessing the need.

photo of Diane on the platformWhen they looked for a ready-made platforms online, they decided those options were significantly less customized and more expensive than what they could build on their own.

Stokes and Christensen visited Young at work. They went with her to an empty cash register where they could take measurements and find the right height for Young's work station floor. Then Stokes made a platform that would not only raise the level of her work station, but also fill the work space without leaving any gaps that could be a safety hazard.

Stokes said the finished product was made of lightweight corrugated packaging material and covered with non-slip padding. He built handles into it to make it easier to move.

"It's working really well," Young said. "It's very lightweight. You can move it easily."

"After she got comfortable with it she was cashiering," Stokes said. "This was a great project. It was simple, quick and it makes it so she can work."

The AT labs at USU help find customized solutions for people with disabilities who want to meet a goal. Projects are usually done for the cost of materials, though donations--either monetary or of used equipment--are encouraged. More information is available on the lab's webpage.

UATP trailer means CReATE devices can now go on the road

Photo of Jose Morales in his wheelchair
Jose Morales receives a wheelchair from CReaTE
in Salt Lake City. Soon, people in  the
Uintah Basin will have access to CReATE devices.
For years, CReATE has been putting equipment into the hands--and smiles on the faces--of people who need mobility equipment on the Wasatch Front. Now, refurbished mobility devices can roll out to new parts of the state.

An exchange of devices between CReATE in Salt Lake City and the Uintah Basin can now begin, thanks to the opening of the Utah Assistive Technology Program's new USU-Uintah Basin AT Lab and the addition of a big trailer.

The new trailer was purchased through a grant from the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, and it's an important part of UATP's goal to make services mobile in the Uintah Basin.

UATP staff can now to pick up donations from the USU-Uintah Basin AT Lab and deliver them to the CReATE program in Salt Lake City. There, they can be refurbished and transferred at an affordable cost to people who need them. The CReATE program can also transfer wheelchairs, walkers and other mobility-related assistive technology back to people in the basin.

"We want people to know that this is part of the Roosevelt Lab," said Clay Christensen, the Logan AT lab coordinator. "{Roosevelt AT Lab Coordinator] Cameron will represent CReATE in the basin area."

That's good news--and it's sure to bring more smiles to people with disabilities in rural Utah.

Save the Date: Roosevelt Open House

photo of Cameron Cressall
Cameron Cressall, AT Lab Coordinator
Join us as we celebrate the opening of the new USU-Uintah Basin AT Lab in Roosevelt on Wednesday, September 7 from 4 to 7 p.m. in the multipurpose room of Utah State University's Roosevelt campus. We will introduce our new director as well as services available from the AT Lab.

We are inviting other service providers to join us and set up a table at our open house.

If you provide services for people within the Uintah Basin in Utah and you are interested in setting up a booth, please email JoLynne at utahatp [at] gmail [dot] com.