Wednesday, November 30, 2011

UATF helps Ogden man start trucking company after amputation

By Storee Powell
OGDEN - A self-described rugged individualist wasn’t sure how he could continue to work after losing a leg as a result of artery-clearing surgery.

Sixty-four-year-old Gerald Larsen said work ethic is part of his lifestyle, especially from living in Alaska wilderness for 20 years on his own, minus his team of sled dogs.
Gerald Larsen with his semi-truck in Ogden.
“I started work when I was in grade school, and have been working ever since then,” Larsen said. “Work ethic completes who I am, but since my leg was amputated I have had to accept I can’t work like I used to.”

Larsen said the situation has been hard on his ‘manhood’.
“I can’t jump off a diving board or walk on the beach, things I used to do. But to continue to work helps me compensate for that,” Larsen said. “I don’t want to be a leech and live off the government.”

But after retiring from law enforcement and truck driving, Larsen wasn’t sure what he could go back to work doing. He spent a month working at the Census doing tabulations, and decided he was not an office worker.

“Also, I’m 64 years old, and there’s a lot of things I can’t do,” Larsen said.

Larsen had driven semi-truck loads for 14 years before his surgery, but since he had no left leg, he couldn’t do the clutch. He decided to look for a truck that operated on automatic so he could take a required federal test to prove he could drive and maintain a truck.

He had to look no further than Vocational Rehab in Ogden, which had bought an automatic semi-truck for James Jessop, a paraplegic living in Ogden. Jessop and Larsen agreed to take on the small business loan together and share the trucking company, which Jessop named Big 9 Transport.
The loan for the truck came from the Utah Assistive Technology Foundation, a private, non-profit organization that works with Zion's Bank and the Utah Microenterprise Loan Fund to provide low-interest loan to Utahns with disabilities to purchase assistive technology to start or expand small businesses.

But after a month on the road, Jessop realized the alteration of lifestyle required for the job wasn’t for him, and decided not do it.  So Larsen took on the driving himself, and began his own company.

Larsen said, “The folks at Microenterprise helped me develop my concept and business plan. The experience of starting my own business was scary, but the UATF and the Microenterprise Loan Fund helped me understand what to expect when owning a small business,” Larsen said.

Larsen lived in Alaska for
20 years as a dogsled musher.
But the business hasn’t been without its challenges. Rising fuel costs and stagnant freight rates was causing Larsen to lose money. One night while in Chicago, Larsen realized he didn’t have any money to get home and had to borrow money from the company (himself) to get home.

Larsen parked the truck for a few months to figure out a new plan. While applying for a dispatcher job at Specialized Rail Service in Clearfield, the company saw he owned a truck and hired him as a contract driver.

The company found containers for Larsen to pick up with his truck from rail yards, which are all regional deliveries. This means Larsen is home almost every night.
“The job is paying better than cross-country, but it requires more getting in and out of the truck, which is hard for a one-legged old guy,” Larsen said. “I can’t even sweep out my truck because I can’t put the dust pan down.”

Despite the difficulties, the business feels like home. Larsen is used to being with himself and by himself, a required disposition for a person on the road.
“You can think about things or do nothing but hang out, and I enjoy that time,” Larsen said. “I’ve become a good driver, and it is nice to be good at what you do. I will retire to part-time driving when I’m 70, and I will probably die driving truck.”

Through acquiring a disability, Larsen said he thought that meant he couldn’t help other people any more, and they could only help him. 

“But I’ve learned that I help people by making them feel good when they help me,” Larsen said. “People like to help others, and I can give them that opportunity now.”
To learn more about the Utah Assistive Technology Foundation, visit or call 1-800-524-5152.

Center for Persons with Disabilitiy 40th Anniversary Events

As part of our year-long 40th Anniversary Celebration, the Center for Persons with Disabilities will sponsor two events that will help the community understand disability’s place in history.

The first is an exhibit on the History of Disability and Advocacy in the foyer of the Special Collections Division of the Merrill-Cazier Library. It will remainon display from January 9-27. Its 22 panels trace 3000 years of seldom-told history. From antiquity to the present, the exhibit brings viewers through an illustrated timeline that shows society’s attitudes and how they affect the lives of people with disabilities.

The second event is a film screening on Friday, January 20th from 1-4 pm in room 154 of the Library. Lives Worth Living documents the history of America’s disability rights movement. It was produced by the PBS Series Independent Lens. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion on “The Disability Rights Movement: Past, Present, and Future.” Space is limited for the screening of the film and panel presentation.

If you have additional questions please contact Jeff Sheen at 797-8113 or

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

AT Computer Lab

The Assistive Technology Lab located in the Janet Quinney Lawson building on the Utah State University campus has a new and improved computer lab available for the Utah community to use. It includes seven new Apple computers, software, and iPad with disability-related apps among other technology. The lab is open 8 am - 5 pm on weekdays. Learn more by visiting AT Computer Lab.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

New archived training available: Wheelchair seating equipment

UATP has a new online training available for viewing: Wheelchair Seating Equipment by the Adaptive Engineering Lab (AEL). View the video below, which is Closed Captioned.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Tips on supporting people with disabilities during the holidays

Not Just Surviving the Holidays: A guide for parents, grandparents, and friends to use while supporting persons with disabilities through this season of celebration and change.

Tips from CLC Network consultant and author Barbara J. Newman.

While Thanksgiving and Christmas often bring up those Hallmark memories for many of us, for some children and adults with disabilities, holidays signal an intense time of stress and distress. Often communicated with significant behavior changes, the underlying message might be "I’m overwhelmed", "You changed my schedule", "Why did you put a tree in our living room", "There are too many people stuffed into this room", or "I am on complete sensory overload".

While all of these ideas won’t work with all people, here are some strategies for families and friends to try as you create a positive time of celebration for each family member.

1. Find some pictures of the celebration from last year. If it will be similar, put together a photo album or story of that event so that the individual can remember it in pictures and written words prior to attending a similar event this year.

2. Put together a schedule of events for your party. Whether in words and/or pictures, let the person know the planned order. Some individuals enjoy crossing off or removing the individual schedule items as they are completed.

3. Many times we redecorate or rearrange rooms to fit more people. If, for example, a larger group will be gathering at grandma and grandpa’s house, consider setting it up a day ahead and visiting that room without people in it. Let the individual explore the changes without the added stress of people. Perhaps leave something on a chair or in a certain place so that you can "reserve a spot" for the event when you arrive. The individual will know to find that space or item to make a more comfortable entry.

4. Give that individual a "job" to do. Perhaps you could assign an individual to be the photographer, back massager, coffee or beverage server, greeter (be the first to arrive and assimilate guests more slowly – often a better choice for some persons), or card distributer. Many times, a helping role will not only use the gifts of an individual, but it gives the person a clear sense of what to do in that environment.

5. Designate a "safe zone". It might be helpful to show that family member a quiet and designated space in the home or building where there would be a calming and preferred activity. It might be a mini tramp, rocking chair, a favorite book, or quiet classical music in a more isolated space where one might be able to find a refuge if the senses get overloaded.

6. Who needs to know? Many times extended families get together, and yet cousins or friends may not really understand the individual with the disability. It might be helpful for parents or the person with the disability to send out a quick update to family members prior to an event that includes such topics as "How Brent has grown this year", "Activities and topics Brent enjoys doing or discussing", "Activities and topics to avoid with Brent", "Some things that Brent may really enjoy when we gather for Thanksgiving", "Some things that might be challenging for Brent at our Thanksgiving celebration" "Some gifts Brent might enjoy receiving" "Some gifts to avoid". Giving information in advance can be a powerful way to put people at ease while also arming well-meaning relatives with some quick strategies to try.

7. "It is better to give than to receive" – and many times we think our family member with a disability should only be the recipient of gifts, and not the giver. How important it is for all of us to have a chance to give. How can that person use an area of interest or gifting to provide something for others? Would it be the gift of a dance or song? Could that individual provide the cookies for dessert? Might that person enjoy a trip to a dollar store to pick out something for each guest or family member? What about a wall decoration or a note card for each guest with a favorite picture of an animal or area of interest? Find a way for that individual to also receive the joy of giving!

8. Think in advance of a way your family member can participate in the holiday traditions. Do you collect prayer requests or notes indicating things for which each family member is thankful to incorporate into the celebration? How might that family member participate? Would it be helpful to have pictures of familiar items so that the individual can point to or pick up the prayer request and hand it to the one praying? How about singing? Could you have a colorful streamer or small rhythm instrument available so that a person without words could participate with movement? How about programming a portion of Luke 2 on an iPad or other device so that pushing a button will allow an individual to read a portion of the Bible? Adding figures or using the manger scene on the mantel may be a way for an individual to better understand or even help move or tell the Christmas story. Be creative.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

60 Minutes: Apps for Autism

This 60 Minutes segment, called 'Apps for Autism', demonstrates new high-tech assistive technology in action. Watch the video to learn more about apps for iPads that help people with autism connect and communicate with the world in an unprecedented way.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Temple Grandin at USU

Wednesday, Nov. 2, Temple Grandin visited Utah State University. The event was sponsored in part by the Center for Persons with Disabilities. Grandin gave two lectures, one on autism spectrum disorders and another on improving animal welfare. To see a photo gallery of the event from the CPD, click here. Hear her lecture, 'All kinds of minds need to work together' here. To learn more about her visit from a story, click here.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Amazing new assistive technology helping people walk

An article by the Associated Press on Nov. 1 explains how new AT developed by Toyota will help move people with limited mobility. To read the article "Toyota shows machines to help sick, elderly move", click here.