Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Making it fit: A wheelchair's long life, made longer by the AT Lab

Photo of Kim
Kim Maibaum

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

Logan AT Lab adds real warmth to holiday season

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

Roosevelt AT Lab coordinator goes the extra mile for local family

Photo of Roy and Shawna Mounteer
Roy and Shawna Mounteer
Ray Mounteer was an active hunter, fisher and hiker. Then, a series of surgeries changed everything. He lost the use of his legs and began crawling to get where he needed to go--inside the house and out to the car.

"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.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Steve and the new portable lift

Photo of Steve, working on the floor.
Steve Nelson

Meet Steve Nelson, one of our dedicated volunteers. He uses a wheelchair, but unfortunately it was hard for him to find the right angle to remain in his chair while he worked in the Logan Assistive Technology Lab. Sometimes, he'd sit on the floor.

Photo of Steve in front of a portable lift

Recently, the AT Lab received a donated portable lift for scooters. It allows people in the AT Lab to raise the scooter off the floor and work on it at whatever height is comfortable to them. This is great news to everyone in the Logan AT Lab who doesn't want to get a sore back from bending over equipment while they work on it.

Steve is removing batteries from a scooter that was recently donated to the AT Lab.

It's especially great news for Steve. "The floor got cold," he said.

Do you have equipment that could make life easier for someone with a disability? Contact AT Lab Coordinator Clay Christensen!

The AT Lab is part of the Utah Assistive Technology Program at the Center for Persons with Disabilities, located at Utah State University.

Friday, November 17, 2017

AT Lab enriches intern's experience while he helps others

Heber Morse shows off a slanted desk he helped design.
Heber Morse is new to the Assistive Technology Lab in Logan. Dan O’Crowley, a student employee who works a lot with Heber, is new to working with interns. This fall, they have learned a lot from each other.

Morse came to the Utah Assistive Technology Program through Aggies Elevated, a residential higher education program for students with intellectual disabilities at Utah State University. He started at the AT Lab after a two-month stint at UATP’s CReATE program in Salt Lake City, where he worked on wheelchairs. While he still works on mobility equipment in his current position, the move to the AT Lab exposed him to a much wider variety of assistive technology.

“At first I was kind of confused,” he said. “But as I slowly came to know what various machines do, I felt comfortable.”

“I feel like Heber is really good at not just thinking of [a problem] in one way,” O’Crowley said.
“He doesn’t limit himself in the way that you can solve a problem.”

In an interview at the lab, Morse showed off an item he made for O’Crowley’s wife, who teaches special education and needs a slanted lap desk. She also wants it to store flat.

“I came up with the idea of putting hinges on it so it would close easier,” he said. They also added a removable piece of wood to keep the sides from collapsing while in use, and Velcro to attach the piece to the bottom of the desk so that it could be easily stored. “It worked really nicely.”

O’Crowley remembers a project they took on for a woman who needed to carry a walker on her scooter. “We had to scratch our heads and engineer something, and Heber was very involved in that process. … I didn’t tell him what I thought was the best way, and I’m glad I didn’t.”

They ended up with a simple design of PVC pipe and square tubing to give the walker a place to ride on the scooter. It was secured on top with a hook. The design was simple enough that it could be used by the client, who needed a solution that did not take a lot of hand strength. The whole time, O’Crowley was there to provide support, but Morse did the project.

O’Crowley has learned that Morse’s approach to a problem may be different from his own. Sometimes it takes Morse longer to arrive at a solution, and O’Crowley has learned to let him work through things at his own pace. O’Crowley has enjoyed the collaboration. “Being able to work with someone and bounce your ideas back and forth, you make it a lot farther and it turns out a lot better… You’ve got to get outside of your own brain.”

“It’s so much fun,” Heber said. “Dan actually brings a lot of great ideas, and he’s the most wonderful, hardworking person I’ve met.”

Photo of Heber working on a project.

The internship’s benefits go so far beyond learning to work with tools. Aggies Elevated Career Success Coordinator Sue Reeves said the program’s students learn job-related skills: being on time, finding productive things to do, following directions and accepting criticism. In addition, they may learn specialized skills they may need in their chosen career. The internships give them work experience to refer to as they go into the “real world” after graduation.

“As a program, our employment rate at 90 days past graduation is 78 percent,” Reeves said. “The employment rate in general for people with disabilities is only about 19 percent. Our internships, and the skills our students learn from them, are a huge part of that success.”

The Logan AT Lab has contributed to that success, thanks in part to coordinator Clay Christensen’s willingness to make it a meaningful experience for Aggies Elevated students.

Morse has been good for the AT Lab, too. O’Crowley said he has the friendly, helpful nature that is essential.

But more than that, Reeves and O’Crowley agreed they’ve seen Morse’s confidence and problem-solving savvy grow. “There’s something about building something or fixing something and making it work,” O’Crowley said. “For me it’s been really neat to see the amount of progress he’s made in two and a half months. There’s a lot more confidence.”

Morse said he loves to see the smiles on the faces of people he has helped to find solutions. “What really brightens up my day is to fix that problem. The gratitude they show is wonderful.”

Friday, November 3, 2017

UATP director speaks out on driverless technology

Night photo of headlights painting lines on a road

UATP Director Sachin Pavithran advocates for fully-accessible, autonomous vehicles as he has met with representatives from government and the automobile industry. Now, he urges people with disabilities to join the conversation.

"When the indicators are that fully autonomous vehicles are expected on our roads within the next five years, it makes me wonder why we haven't seen a prototype of an accessible autonomous vehicle yet," he said. "Conversations continue about making accessibility a priority when designing these vehicles. Promises are being made by the auto industry that autonomous vehicles will change the lives of all for the better, including people with disabilities. 
"But I hope people with disabilities are not left behind yet again."

You can read the full story on the Center for Persons with Disabilities website.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Save the date: basic wheelchair maintenance & repair webinar

photo of Tom Boman
Tom Boman
When you spend your whole workday refurbishing wheelchairs, scooters and other mobility equipment, you know a thing or two about their repair and maintenance. In October, CReATE coordinator Tom Boman will share his knowledge in a free webinar, covering topics like battery maintenance, joystick repair and keeping those wheels turning properly.

The event takes place October 23 at 10:30 am. It will be posted later on our YouTube channel.

If you have a question for Tom, or if you'd like to sign up, email utahatp[at]gmail.com. We'll add you to our list!

Photo of many wheelchairs in CReATE warehouse
The CReATE warehouse is full of examples of Tom's repair and refurbishment skills.