Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Custom wheelchair helps equine science student learn, help others


Jack poses in his specialized chair, with a horse beside him
Jack Charlesworth. Photo courtesy
of Sherrie Petty
Horses have always been a part of Jack Charlesworth’s life. Naturally, he settled into the field of equine sciences at Utah State University, where he is now a senior. He also volunteers with USU’s Equine Experience program, which uses horses in therapeutic and educational activities.

The field has made a particular impact on Charlesworth, who had a spinal infection that has required the use of a wheelchair for as long as he can remember. He has been riding horses since before he can remember, too. Riding has given him more than freedom; it has also made him feel better physically. 

“I love horses,” he said. “I get to leave my chair at the side of the arena.”

The sand in the arena used by USU’s Equine-Assisted Activities & Therapies program is specially designed so that wheelchairs like his can maneuver through it. It has chopped-up, recycled sneakers in it to help wheelchairs get a grip on the surface. But even with the high-tech sand, Charlesworth’s manual wheelchair ran into some problems.

His equine science program includes ground work: grooming and training. It was tricky, though; if he operated his manual chair with one hand and held a tool in the other, the chair turned in circles.

He had the same problem when leading a horse; if one hand held the lead while the other worked the wheelchair, the chair tended to turn. The manual chair also limited him when he groomed horses; it was too low for him to reach as high on the horse as he needed to.

So Charlesworth and leaders from Equine-Assisted Activities and Therapies turned to the Utah Assistive Technology Program, located in the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University. AT Laboratory Coordinator Clay Christensen and a team of volunteers drew up plans for a modified power chair.

They began with two chairs, one of which was cannibalized to provide needed parts. They found some longer bolts and bolted wheels together, so that both drive wheels were twice as wide. The team also modified the chair’s back castors to make them wider. “It took a little welding, a little thinking outside the box, a little trial and error,” said Christensen. It also took the help of volunteers Mike Stokes and Todd McGregor. “It was a little bit of everybody.”

The result is a chair with fat wheels for driving over sand, and hydraulics that allow Jack to raise himself up a foot to groom horses.

Jack leads a pony while using the motorized chair in the arena.


The result has helped Charlesworth a lot in his arena work. “It allows me to move through the arena more freely, without getting stuck in the dirt,” he said. “It’s a lot more fluid in the power chair.”
The benefits of the new chair won’t stop with Jack. He is now looking into adding an Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies minor to his field of study, so that he can work with people who could benefit from equine therapy. The power chair will help with his minor, too.

“It [equine therapy] has helped me in the past,” he said. The benefits of being on a horse and experiencing the movement has not only reduced his symptoms, but made him feel better in general. “I want to use that to help others.”

Jack has volunteered with the program. “Many people in this field started as volunteers,” said Judy Smith, director of Equine and Human Sciences at USU. She is glad that Charlesworth can help them pioneer ways to make their programs more accessible to participants with disabilities. “Jack is really going to be our eyes and ears to be inclusive in the community.”

For more information about the Utah Assistive Technology Lab, contact Clay Christensen.

For more about the USU Equine Experience and its programs for the community, contact Judy Smith.

To find out more about the Equine-Assisted Activities & Therapies minor, contact Caisa Shoop.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Jacob and the big red switch

ROOSEVELT--A large part of a child's development is understanding that one action will set another one in motion. It is a basis for language and for a sense of interaction with the environment.

Jacob, a child with cortical visual impairment, is getting a better understanding of cause and effect, thanks to a toy with a big red switch. The modification to his automated toy was done at the Assistive Technology Lab at Utah State University in Roosevelt.

"Jacob has a vision impairment called CVI, so he doesn't see as well as the rest of us," said his mother, Cami Cook. With CVI, the brain has difficulty interpreting what the eyes see. Jacob takes longer to focus on an object, but he likes music.

Cami wanted him to be able to operate a toy that lights up and plays a song--two things that would attract his attention and help him focus. She also wanted Jacob to be able to activate the toy himself--something that was hard for him to do with the manufacturer's little built-in switch.

She took the project to Cameron Cressall, who coordinates the AT Lab at Utah State University in Roosevelt.

He opened the toy up and hard-wired a plug into the motor, drilling holes into the plastic so that the plug sat flush with the toy. The switch connects to the plug, and the toy is activated by a simple push of the hand. "A child that doesn't have the ability to interact with a toy with a little switch can play with it another way."

Cami said that with lights and music to attract his attention, Jacob is focusing more quickly. "He's starting to reach for the button," she said. "We're learning cause and effect."



Friday, February 9, 2018

AT center director from India visits UATP

photo of the men in action
Dr. Satheesh Kumar and Clay Christensen work on
equipment at the AT Lab in Logan.
Even before he came to visit the Utah Assistive Technology Program this week,  Professor KG Satheesh Kumar said he and others from his center in India had gone through the UATP website and were inspired by what they saw.

They studied it and created their own strategy around it.

Kumar directs the Centre for Assistive Technology and Innovation in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India. This week, he visited the AT Lab in Logan, learning more about its demonstration and loan program and the computer center.

While CATI's focus is early intervention, it has many of the same interests as UATP. Demonstrations and loans are important in India, he said; a healthy demo and loan program helps people make sure that the AT they buy is really the best option for them, and the best use of their money. People with disabilities in India typically have little money to use in buying AT.

"Awareness and training of people with disabilities and caregivers is our first priority," he said. "Our challenges are number one, creating awareness, and number two is selecting the right product."

Kumar also hopes to see the assistive technology industry grow in India. It will take technology development, turning that technology into products, manufacturing, sales and distribution, and after-sales support. "All of these are important, and in India, these are all missing," he said. The economy in India has not encouraged the development of AT on its own; people with disabilities typically do not have the dollars to spend on AT, so manufacturers don't find the sector attractive.

In the United States, the Tech Act is in place to promote the use of assistive technology. India does not have an equivalent, Dr. Kumar said, though laws in the last two years have placed greater emphasis on accessibility and accommodation for people with disabilities.

Kumar's visit to the Logan AT Lab and the CReATE program in Salt Lake City were part of a multi-stop tour to gain more information on how assistive technology is addressed in the US. He toured AT programs in several states and attended the Assistive Technology Industry Association conference that took place at the end of January in Orlando, Florida.

The Centre for Assistive Technology and Innovation in India started two years ago, at a time when the country is placing greater emphasis on providing accommodations for people with disabilities. It is located in the National Institute of Speech and Hearing, which has operated since 1997.

"NISH is being converted into a national central university," Kumar said. This progress comes amid encouraging changes in Indian society. "The previous practice was to hide disability within the family," he said. "That is changing. ... Now they are being cared for and educated."

Monday, February 5, 2018

Roosevelt AT Lab volunteer makes a difference in his community

Kenny Lawrence and Mac Keel, on the day the basket was delivered.
ROOSEVELT--Sometimes, just going places isn't enough. Take going to the grocery store, for example. The whole point is bringing back stuff; often more than can fit on your lap.

That's where a basket would come in handy. Kenny Lawrence used to have two of them on his scooter, but when he gave it to the Assistive Technology Lab in Roosevelt and received a refurbished wheelchair, his new-to-him wheels came without a basket. It was just the right job for the lab's new, young volunteer.

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

Mac Keel is a Union High School student who has volunteered at the Roosevelt AT Lab since the beginning of the school year. When Kenny suggested they add a basket to the back of the wheelchair, Mac brainstormed some ideas, then went to work.

"He got it welded up on his own," said Cameron Cressall, Roosevelt AT Lab coordinator.

photo of basket on the back of the wheelchair
The AT Lab gives Mac a place to use his tool-savvy skills while helping other people. He has enjoyed all the projects he's worked on so far, he said. "It's all good. ... I just like helping people."

Amelia Garner, Mac's teacher, has seen the effect his volunteer work has had on him at school. "Hands on work is what he wants to do for his job, so this is really great training," she said. "I think this is building his self-confidence and his self-esteem. And Cameron is so good to work with."

Cameron, who spent a busy fall and winter at the AT Lab, has been glad for Mac's help. "He's been really great. He stays busy and follows instructions."

Kenny said the finished project should fill the need. "I think it's going to work pretty good," he said. "It's easy to put on."

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.