Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Salt Lake City Council ruling on ridesharing services impedes access for the blind

Yesterday, Nov. 25, the Salt Lake City Council adopted liability and security rules making business more difficult for ridesharing services Lyft and Uber. Read more on the ruling on the Salt Lake Tribune

By Everette Bacon
Utah Chapter President
National Federation of the Blind

The National Federation of the Blind is the largest organization of blind and low-vision people in the United States. Founded in 1940, the Federation has grown to over 50,000 members. Here in Utah, we have over 2,000 blind, low vision, and sighted members on our registry and we have been an active, not-for-profit organization since 1957.

Uber, Everyone's private driver.
As the voice of the blind community, we oppose the Council’s ground transportation ruling, which imposes onerous requirements on ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft. Ridesharing technologies have had an incredible impact on the blind and vision impaired community, enabling them to live fuller and more independent lives. These transportation alternatives should be welcomed into Salt Lake City in a sensible way that embraces the uniqueness of the model.

Ridesharing apps are lauded by accessibility advocates because of their ease of use and reliability.  Riders can use voice commands and software compatibility to request a ride anywhere in the city. While public transportation can be an option, what makes ridesharing liberating for those with impaired vision is that it offers a safe and reliable ride within minutes of pressing a button. 

Requesting a ride through Uber or Lyft ensures a clean and safe vehicle will arrive at the rider’s location within a matter of minutes.  This eliminates the need to hail a taxi, a process that can be extremely difficult for those with vision impairments. The voice access technology counts down the minutes until a car arrives. Riders can enter their destination in the app prior to the trip and estimate the fare thus ensuring the driver will take them directly where they want to go. Since the fare is charged to a credit card on file, there is no payment friction, there is no handling of cash and there is no worry over getting short-changed.

Because discrimination is one of the biggest issues our community faces, the level of accountability involved in ridesharing is an unparalleled advantage. Also, as direct feedback is submitted after every ride, any questions or concerns can be addressed immediately – a process that can be extremely difficult or impossible with traditional transportation options, like a taxi. 

Salt Lake City Council should remove outdated impediments to progress and embrace the services that consumers want and need, especially services that are making a difference in the lives of so many people facing limited mobility. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

School Tools: Overcoming writing barriers with Co:Writer

By Kent Remund
Utah Center for Assistive Technology

In its most simple form, writing is recording; writing is a powerful way for humans to record and express ideas from an individual’s mind and can be kept for future generations to read. Think of some of our greatest recorded writings from Twain, Dickens, Tolstoy and Dr. Seuss. 

Writing in the school setting has changed over the years. From chalk and slate, graphite pencils, and pens, to typewriters, computers, laptops and tablets. Students with disabilities have some powerful tools to assist them in recording their thoughts today. 

For students with learning disabilities, it can be difficult for them to get the words out.  There's a wall between the idea and writing it out. Word recall is a barrier as well as grammar and spelling can get in the way. One of our favorite tools to help students overcome these barriers over the past decade is Co:Writer from Don Johnston,

If students can write just a fraction of what they want to say, Co:Writer will do the rest. The most basic feature of Co:Writer predicts what students are trying to say, and offers word suggestions in real time.  

Even the worst spelling and grammar mistakes are not a problem for Co:Writer. In addition to prediction is the ability to add topic-specific vocabulary, which it uses to predicts words from. 

Co:Writer has word prediction.
Word prediction is one feature of Co:Writer.
If a student were to write a paper on our solar system, a dictionary specific to the solar system could be added to the words that it will predict. The students starts to type "pl" and Co:Writer will predict “Planet” and “Pluto”.

Co:Writer can have specific dictionaries like this one on butterflies.

Another feature is the ability for it to speak each letter, word and complete sentence as the student types. This allows them to check their writing through auditory feedback.  

Co:Writer is also a great tool for students that lack fine motor skills or range of motion challenges. Many students with cerebral palsy use the program with great success as it eliminates keystrokes with the word prediction.  

Handwriting trouble is not an issue with Co:Writer.

In the past, Co:Writer was only available on the PC for $189.00 per computer. Last year it was released for Apple devices for $19.99! Don Johnston just released Co:Writer Universal, which is $89.00 per year, but has some great features that we love. Co:Writer Universal uses the Cloud to store its information and is available to access on a computer, iPhone, iPad or Chromebook.  

If a teacher were to set up a custom dictionary at school, the student can then login to his/her account at home, and continue working on the same work from school. In addition, Co:Writer Universal now has some powerful data collection features for teachers and parents. It continually tracks which words and sentence the student is writing and compiles it in useful charts and graphs to monitor a full range of qualitative and productivity data. This data will help track writing skills and help set goals for the student. 

Data tracking helps you keep up with writing skills.

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. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Assistive Technology Awareness with Gold Medalist Muffy Davis

By Bennett Purser

In honor of November being Assistive Technology Awareness Month, the UATP spoke with Paralympic gold medalist Muffy Davis about her career, how she uses assistive technology in sports and her experiences with the 
Utah Assistive Technology Foundation.

For Paralympic gold medalist Muffy Davis, assistive technology isn’t just for competitive sports, but what she uses every day to live her life to the fullest. With November’s celebration of Assistive Technology Awareness Month, Davis shares her gratitude for adaptive sports and the Utah Assistive Technology Foundation, which made some of her devices possible.

Muffy Davis with her gold medals

“For me,” Davis said. “They enable me to have a full life. That’s what assistive technology does, enabling people to be able to do the things they want to do.”

As an avid skier her throughout her life, an accident 25 years ago left Davis paralyzed from the waist down at age 16. After the tragedy of the accident, she was determined to get back back on the mountain and conquer the slopes. 

She taught herself how to ski sitting down and embraced a new realm of competitive winter sports. Since then, Davis continues to be an avid skier as well as hand cycler and mountain climber. She has competed in the 1998, 2000, 2002, 2010, and 2012 Paralympic Games, where she won three gold medals in hand cycling. 

It was 2008 when she first came to the UATP seeking information about low interest loans for assistive technology devices through the Utah Assistive Technology Foundation. A unit within the UATP, the foundation partners with Zions Bank to make new devices a financial possibility.

Davis was interested in putting an indoor elevator in her home after retailers told her that a custom lift would be about the same price as an elevator, she was approved for a low interest loan and had the home elevator installed. 

A few years down the road, Davis returned to the UATF when her car was no longer meeting her needs. With a growing family, it was time to find a more practical vehicle. She was approved for her second loan from the UATF to get a van fit for her wheelchair and her new daughter.  

Davis, who won three gold medals during the London Paralympic games, has gone great lengths with assistive equipment, but it’s the small things, Davis said, that assistive technology influences the most.

“Having this fully accessible van is so much easier. I can do more things, I can go farther,” she said. “It’s the peace of mind, I have a five year old daughter so knowing I can go get her. It’s the little things.” 

Muffy Davis with her daughter

With assistive technology fully implemented in Davis’ home and daily life, she notes the importance of adaptive devices in recreation. The type of devices that make her career and success possible, devices like adaptive skis and hand pedaled bicycles, bring her joy beyond competition.

“Aside from the fact that I love to compete at an elite level and get physical fitness and exercise, just being able to recreate with my family is immeasurable." Davis said. "I can recreate with my daughter, and that’s what I love to do.”

With Assistive Technology Awareness Month, Davis mentions how the youth embraces assistive technology. Those she’s seen skiing in the resorts and biking in the summers, have impressed her with their dedication to perform despite any physical limitations.

“What I think is so wonderful is that assistive technology is not a surprise to them. Kids are growing up and they’re like ‘of course I can play wheelchair basketball,’ or ‘of course I want to swim with adaptive technology, or run or ride a bike,'” Davis said. “So the fact that more kids in wheelchairs don’t even consider that it may not be a possibility.”

She expressed her gratitude to resources like the Utah Assistive Technology Foundation, who provides funds when someone doesn’t have the financial needs, but “the idea and the passion.”

Muffy Davis is in the process of writing her first book, a memoir recalling her experiences as a Paralympian, choosing to do more than survive, but to thrive. The book is to be published within the next year. To learn more about Muffy Davis’ story, visit her website here and for more information on the Utah Assistive Technology Foundation and our partnership with Zions Bank click here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Life of a Wheelchair at CReATE

In honor of Assistive Technology Awareness Month, the Utah Assistive Technology Program is celebrating the wheelchair, and the many lives it can change. 

CReATE graphic
Ray Rasmussen was stuck. With his wheelchair falling apart, his mobility was limited and his freedom had been compromised. That's where CReATE, Citizen’s Reutilizing Assistive Technology came in. 

Tom Boman, the technician for CReATE, looked at Rasmussen’s needs and turned a recycled wheelchair into freedom for Rasmussen. An ordinary day in the life for Boman, reutilizing assistive technology equipment for the needs of people like Rasmussen. 

It was Rasmussen’s cousin, Jim Graehl, who brought him to CReATE after hearing about the wheelchair services from a local medical school. He recalls the difficulties of finding a chair that could meet all the physical requirements for his cousin, noting a collection of broken chairs at Rasmussen’s home.

"The value of CReATE was really driven home for us when Ray broke his first chair,” Graehl said. “He's not eligible for a new chair from Medicaid for two years.”

There are no waiting periods or disability proof requirements at CReATE, helping fill the need of those unable to get one through insurance. After receiving the new chair from CReATE, Graehl donated three of Rasmussen’s previous electric wheelchairs in need of repair.  

Peggy Naud
Peggy Naud testing out her new chair from CReATE.
"One of the chairs Ray had was a bigger, more industrial chair. Tom [Boman] said it was hard to get, but easy to reutilize,” Graehl said.

Reutilize he did. Boman worked his magic and now Rasmussen’s old chair belongs to another client Peggy Naud. As a resident of downtown Salt Lake City, Naud received her chair after her electric scooter lost power. Learning about CReATE from the United Way, Naud felt relieved when she visited the shop.    

“I walked in that place on my crutches and it felt like there was a million chairs in that room,” Naud said. “When I saw all those chairs it made feel like I wasn't such a sore thumb sticking out in the crowd.”

After consulting with Boman about her specific needs in her mobility chair, she left the shop gleaming in Rasmussen’s donated chair.

“It was an old, Jazzy 1170 wheelchair,” Boman said. “We took that chair and combined with parts of others for Peggy.”

Since many parts of the chairs and scooters are interchangeable, everything either gets scrapped out or refurbished, and goes back to someone. 

“We take a look at whatever chair has the best possibility to meet the client’s needs,” said Boman. “It really is the gift that keeps on giving.”

As Naud explores her downtown neighborhood, new chair in tow, she frequents many of its shops and events. Recently she bought season tickets to the Utah Opera, attending “Madame Butterfly,” as she sat in Rasmussen’s former chair with her daughter next to her in the aisle seat.

“It was marvelous! The chair makes me taller than everyone else around me, so I had the best seat in the house,” Naud said laughing. “Nothing keeps me from getting downtown.”

Graehl recalls similar feelings after discovering the services at the shop.

“The lack of freedom and loss of freedom was really difficult for Ray, but having those guys [CReATE] available to help us is a huge benefit."

Visit the CReATE webpage to learn more about the many wheelchairs available, or call 801-887-9398 to speak with a technician. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Myth vs. Fact – The Cost of Workplace Accommodations

By Lindsay Boerens
Utah Disability Law Center

Myth: 99% of all green Jell-O is consumed in the state of Utah.

Fact: In 2001, the Utah state senate recognized Jell-O as a favorite snack food and the governor declared an annual Jell-O week. 
Green Jell-O Mold

Myth: Accommodations for employees with disabilities are expensive.

Fact: 58% of accommodations for employees with disabilities actually cost nothing.

A common misconception is that accommodations for employees with disabilities are expensive. 

However, according to an ongoing study conducted by the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) since 2004, employers report that 58 percent of accommodations cost them ZERO dollars. The rest typically cost less than $500. 

Employers often assume that accommodations are expensive, high-end electronics and technology. Many forget that assistive technology can include any item, piece of equipment, software or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.  

According to JAN, simple items such as tennis balls, headlamps, and even curtains could all be used as a reasonable accommodation in the workplace. 
Assistive technology to help accommodate  workers can be high-tech or low-tech.
Assistive technology to help accommodate
workers can be high-tech or low-tech.

It is important to note that some types of assistive technology (AT) that are more expensive may be necessary. The type of accommodation needed will always depend on an individual’s particular situation – including their job and their disability. 

One thing for employers to consider is that, in some cases, something as simple as putting curtains up to reduce glare on a computer screen for an employee with migraine headaches is much less complicated (and more than likely much less expensive) than searching for the best anti-glare computer monitor on the market. 

So remember, before jumping to the conclusion that an accommodation will break the bank, low cost and effective accommodations do exist. Employers and employees can find a wealth of information on job accommodations on the JAN website:, and check out the JAN search for accomodations by disability gadget on the right-hand side of this blog.

If you are a person with a disability and are in need of an accommodation at work, you can contact the Disability Law Center for more information and, if necessary, legal consultation to help you resolve issues with your employer. Visit us at or call us at 1-800-662-9080.