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.