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.