Friday, March 10, 2017

CReATE's Tom Boman: a success story that keeps on giving

Tom Boman coordinates the CReATE program in
Salt Lake City.
It’s a familiar story with a surprise twist: Man acquires a disability. Man loses job. Man gets another job. Thanks to this unexpected career change, hundreds of other Utahns get moving again.

Tom Boman has been with UATP since 2013—long enough that his “happily ever after” has some hefty numbers behind it. Since he started with the CReATE (Citizens Reutilizing Assistive Technology Equipment) program in Salt Lake City, he has helped 569 people receive mobility devices that otherwise might have ended up in the dump. Without the program’s help, many, many people would not have been able to move as independently.

His story with the Utah Assistive Technology Program began with the sudden onset of vertigo. “I still don’t have a diagnosis,” he said. “I’ve been to all the rock star specialists in Salt Lake.” With time, he figured out that his symptoms were much better when he was moving around, and that allowed him to stop using heavy medication. But his days of working at a desk were over.

Tom poses with Gideon, a wheelchair recipient.
Boman poses with Gideon, one of  many happy clients.

He started work with Deseret Industries, an employment program that teaches new skills to its associates, first within the setting of the DI thrift store and then, after a trial period, with temporary business partnerships. And that is how Boman first met Clay Christensen, the Assistive Technology Lab Coordinator at UATP. Both CReATE and UATP are part of the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University.

Christensen put Boman to work in the Logan AT Lab while Deseret Industries paid his wages as part of the internship program. Christensen noticed right away that Boman was comfortable with tools, he had an excellent work ethic and he was able to keep organized in an environment that could easily be overwhelmed with donations.

Rollin Woodward, another client
At the time, CReATE was operating as a UATP initiative in Salt Lake, but it needed a new person to staff it. Someone who was self-motivated, organized and good at tinkering with mechanical things. Christensen offered the position to Tom, who commuted between Salt Lake and Logan for a year before he became a full-time coordinator of the program--and a Salt Lake City resident.

“He went down there and he turned it around,” Christensen said. In 2014 the program was transferring about 10 devices a month. In 2016 the average was around 20.

Boman’s job has helped many, many people along the way. “I can’t sit, but I work with people who can’t walk,” he said. CReATE fills a need that often goes unnoticed in Utah. After all, if people are unable to move independently, they’re not likely to be out on the street where they can be noticed. But their joy at getting their mobility back is unmistakable.

“It’s quite common for some of the mobility devices we transfer to almost become an extension of people’s bodies,” Boman said in an earlier interview. “We refurbished a power wheelchair for a lady that enabled her to continue her work on a medical assembly production line. The power seat on her previous chair stopped working, and she spent months not being able to change her body position for her ten-hour shifts. The power wheelchair we worked on for her has power rehabilitation seating that enables her to elevate herself up to the correct height, and to vary her body position to eliminate fatigue and injury. Seeing that direct impact on people’s lives makes this work very rewarding.”

photo of Daemon
Daemon Wabel
Stacey Webel turned to CReATE when her son, Daemon, outgrew his chair and the $4000 deductible on a new one was just too far out of reach. Boman found a chair that would work, made some modifications so that it would continue to suit the needs of a growing boy. When they introduced Daemon to his new chair, it was a happy moment. He cannot speak, but he communicated all the same. “He screamed with delight,” Stacey said. “He was just bouncing around in there. He loved this chair.”

The need is real. Insurance typically pays for a wheelchair every five years, but they often break down before then. Warranties expire. Children outgrow their chairs. Sometimes, even when insurance does replace a chair, people often have to wait for weeks or months for it to arrive.

CReATE steps in to fill the these gaps, taking donated chairs, refurbishing them and providing them to people who need them, often for less money than an insurance deductible.

The program serves people regardless of age, income or insurance status. It does it on a shoestring, with the help of Boman, a part-time staff member and a group of dedicated volunteers.

Need a wheelchair, knee scooter or other mobility device? Visit the CReATE web page on the Utah Assistive Technology Program website. There, you can find a referral form. To contact CReATE directly, call 801.887.9398.

Want to help? Donations are always welcome. CReATE is working now to deliver a power wheelchair to Jacques, a young disability activist in Burkina Faso, Africa. The wheelchair is ready, but we must raise funds for the shipping. Find out more on the Yembre Go Fund Me page.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Free March 16 webinar addresses apps for reading & comprehension

At the Utah Assistive Technology Program, we are often asked: Are there applications that help students--especially those in special education--with reading and comprehension?

Kent Remund of the Utah Center for Assistive Technology will explore that question during our next webinar. Join us for a one-hour look at iPad apps and a demonstration of the Livescribe Echo Smart Pen. 

This free presentation takes place March 16 at 10 am MST. It will later be archived on the UATP YouTube channel and on this blog.

To sign up--or to get information on how to access the archived webinar: email JoLynne at this address: utahatp@gmail.com. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Logan AT Lab helps family find multiple solutions

photo of Teisia and Clay
Teisia and  Logan AT Lab Coordinator
Clay Christensen 
Teisia Mortensen nearly died in September, when she was found unresponsive. Her brain was without oxygen for long enough that professionals wondered if she would survive, let alone recover. It was a terrifying time for her mother, Michelle Simpson, who feared she might lose her daughter. 

But Teisia defied the odds, first by surviving and then by speaking, eating and gradually regaining some of the movement she had lost. The recovery exceeded the expectations of health care professionals, and Michelle began planning for the time Teisia would come home.

The prospect brought up a whole new list of questions--issues the Utah Assistive Technology Program is now helping her answer. For example, how could she prepare her home to receive her daughter? What wheelchair would work best for Teisia's needs? And what about mealtimes? While Teisia had tried adaptive silverware, it was still a struggle to feed herself, or take a drink of water without help.

"All the sudden your whole life changes," Michelle said. "Until you walk in those shoes you don't realize that there are people out there needing the help, or that there are places like this offering it."

While the Internet has information on assistive technology, or devices that help people with disabilities gain independence, even Google couldn't offer the advice Michelle needed. "When you only know a little, you don't know what to google."

photo of Teisia as tries out an adapted bowl and spoon.
Teisia tries out an adapted bowl and spoon.
They came to the Logan Assistive Technology Lab, where they met with coordinator Clay Christensen, volunteer Mike Stokes and home health care and wheelchair providers. They evaluated Teisia's needs, showed her a couple different types of motorized chairs and specialized cushions to go with them, and tried out some different types of adapted silverware. They and fashioned a wedge that would hold an adapted plate on her lap. Stokes attached Velcro to the bottom of the plate and sewed some to the wedge's fabric cover so that it would stay put while in use.

As for the adapted spoon, Christensen said, it started out as an ordinary piece of silverware. Then it was bent in a vise until it was the right angle for Teisia. (Adapted silverware online often runs for $15 apiece, and people who are unable to try before they buy may go through several versions before hitting on the right one.)

"This will work better than what I have right now," Teisia said.


"It's amazing, eye opening. I have so many different words I could use," Michelle said. 

Now that she knows, she wants everyone to know. Meanwhile she took home information on inexpensive assistive technology and financing through the Utah Assistive Technology Foundation.

"I had no idea there was a place like this in Logan," she said.

Friday, January 27, 2017

An AT tale

How 1 project brought together 3 USU campuses,  2 AT labs & one family

two students work at a tablesaw
USU-Eastern Students Brycee Sells and Shiyenne Yazzie start work on
a sensory board during a visit to USU-Logan.

Andrea Johnson learned a year ago that her son, an energetic and adorable two-and-a-half year old boy named Traxten, had autism. She started applied behavior analysis therapy for him, but wanted to do something that would also help him work through some of his sensory issues.

“He’s got to be moving,” she said. “If he loses interest in one thing, he moves on to another.”

She followed a Facebook page for families of children with disabilities, and noticed Cameron Cressall, coordinator of the AT Lab in Roosevelt, was posting there. She reached out to him to see if the Utah Assistive Technology Program at Utah State University could help.

As it turned out, it could, starting with the AT lab on the Logan campus. That lab hosted two students, Brycee Sells and Shiyenne Yazzie, from the Utah State University campus in Blanding. They arrived in Logan as part of the four-week summer Native American STEM Mentorship program. There, the Logan AT Lab put them to work building a sensory board.

The project started with a sturdy cabinet, built by the visiting students. From there it was transported to Roosevelt, where lab coordinator Cressall attached some items that would help Traxton explore—things ranging  from a little electric light to a stretchy rubber chicken. Then it went to the Johnson home in Vernal.

Traxten liked it right away, Andrea said, but she also knows that his interests are rapidly changing. (He is now three and a half years old.) The board’s design allows for that, too. “As Traxten grows, it grows with him, so we can add different things that he will be interested in two years from now,” she said.

And when Traxten grows out of it altogether, that won’t be the end of the story. “It’s durable,” Cressall said. “We can always donate it back to the program and find another child to give it to.”

The Logan and Roosevelt AT labs and the Utah Assistive Technology Program are part of the Center for Persons with Disabilities.

traxten plays with items on the sensory board
Traxten tries out his new sensory board.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

AT Lab helps schools and families save money, find solutions

photo of Cameron and student
AT Lab coordinator Cameron Cressall
introduces a cane to a student at the
Con Amore school in Myton, Utah.
ROOSEVELT, UT—People with AT needs can go online and find solutions. But sometimes those solutions either don’t work, or need some modification to be effective. Families can end up trying multiple products before finding one that suits them. And sometimes, the cost of all that trial and error is simply out of reach.

That’s where Utah’s assistive technology labs work to bridge the gap. Two of them are operating in the state of Utah, as part of the Utah Assistive Technology Program within the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University.

“Financially I can't think of anything better for families,” said Shelley Winn, a special education teacher who has worked with the AT Lab in Roosevelt to find solutions for her students. “They spend so much already on their children's needs.” Winn is a teacher at the Con Amore school in Myton, which serves students with severe, multiple disabilities and developmental delays in Duchene County.

The school has also enjoyed some savings benefits through the AT Lab. When Winn used some demonstration items to find out what would work and what would not, it was a win for the school’s budget.

Teachers at Con Amore also introduced a cane to a student who suddenly stopped walking. Using a loaned device from the AT Lab allowed them to see if the new assistive technology would work without putting the family through the expense of buying one first.

Rachel Boyce, a special educator at Roosevelt Jr. High, worked with the AT Lab to bring a balance beam and balance board to her classroom. “We have a lot of problems with coordination and gross motor skills,” she said. She talked her concerns over with Royce Porter, an occupational therapist in the area, and he linked her up with Cameron Cressall, coordinator of Roosevelt AT Lab.

photo of feet on a beam
A student uses the balance beam.
Boyce knew what she wanted, but the price was too high for her supply budget. So she worked with Cressall to have a low-cost version built out of wood for her classroom.  The resulting balance beam was low-to-the-ground for safety. It came in four pieces, so the students could change up how they were arranged and add some variety while they practiced their skills. “It’s a game for them, and it’s so fun,” she said. “They’re obsessed with it. … I expect it to last for years.”

The students also received a rocking platform from the AT Lab that helps them practice their balance skills.

But the special education students in Boyce’s room have taken AT a step further by learning how to create their own. They’ve built book easels out of PVC pipe and created wedges designed to serve as a portable desk. Boyce’s students took a lot of pride in that project—and they still use them as a portable desk and object holder.

Cressall pre-cut the cardboard used in the wedges, and he did some pre-taping, but the children assembled the rest themselves.


Rachel holds a slant board
Special education teacher Rachel Boyce shows of an AT project her special education class completed.

“It’s good for them to be able to accomplish things,” Boyce said. “The kids have never been allowed to use that kind of equipment, and it was fun to see.”

Royce Porter, the occupational therapist who connected Boyce with Cressall, said he’s happy that the Assistive Technology lab has provided people in the Uintah Basin with more options. He loves being able to refer clients to the AT lab. “It’s like a light to the Basin,” he said. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

DIY assistive technology: How to make a calm-down jar


photo of jars with suspended glitter
Before

Calm-down jars allow children (or stressed-out adults) to focus on the mesmerizing, downward flow of sparkling glitter to stop thinking about that annoying... hmm, what was I worried about again?

There are many ways to make them, but this one uses a ratio of 80 percent water to 20 percent clear tacky glue, and glitter at your own discretion. You can also add larger sequins or other decorations, but be warned: they can be hard to see through a veil of glitter.

Another thing I discovered in my own kitchen: while some recipes call for glitter glue, the brand I used was really, really tacky. It created a permanent suspension, with the glitter at a virtual standstill. I recommend using tacky glue at first and playing with the proportions later.

Once you have the suspension you want, you can super-glue or hot-glue the lid in place.

photo of jars after glitter has settled
After

Here's a quick look at how it goes together.



For alternative ways to make a calm-down jar, here's a link. If you really want to go crazy with it, you can search for calm-down jars on Pinterest.



Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Roosevelt AT Lab finds multiple solutions for Vernal couple

In the last year, the Utah Assistive Technology Program opened an AT lab in Roosevelt. Since then we have provided services and made new friends in another part of the state. Here is the second in a series of stories from the Uintah Basin.

VERNAL—Cathy Johnson heard about the Assistive Technology Lab in Roosevelt before it even existed. When she saw a flyer announcing that one was being considered for the Uintah Basin, it felt personal.

“I’m a special educator, so I was interested for work, and for my husband,” she said.

Her husband, Jerry, had been diagnosed with multiple system atrophy (MSA), a rare neurological, degenerative condition. When the AT Lab came to the area, she contacted them looking for specialized eating utensils and communication boards. Roosevelt AT Lab Coordinator Cameron Cressall and Logan AT Lab Coordinator Clay Christensen demonstrated some options and evaluated the family’s needs.

“Those were our first two concerns at that point,” Cathy said. But in addition to the evaluation, Cressall also came with eight pages of information on MSA.

“They understood the progression and how our needs would be changing,” Cathy said. “This is huge!”

Later, lab coordinator Cameron Cressall came back with a specialized rail for the bathroom. It folds down and lifts up for storage, so it takes up less space.

It was a piece of donated equipment, said Cressall. “We’re like a hub. People want to share what they’ve had and used with others that it can help.”

It’s a good thing, because assistive technology can be expensive off the shelf. Cathy knew this from her own experience; from searching online for things that weren’t quite the right fit, or ordering a device in that didn’t quite work.

Still later, Jerry needed a new chair. Cressall brought in a demo chair so that they could try it out, then connected them with a provider who could arrange for a new one. Jerry is nonverbal now, but when asked how he liked his chair he gave a big thumbs-up.

Once, when the chair crashed into a wall, Cressall helped fix it. “Instead of the warranty work and waiting for a vendor to come, we can fix certain parts without jeopardizing the warranty,” he said.


So what would the Johnsons have done without the AT Lab? “Cried,” Cathy said, “Or just made do.”