Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Utah Assistive Technology Program moves to Vernal

Young people move equipment off a trailer while a woman in a wheelchair looks on.
Volunteers help finish the move to Utah Assistive Technology Program's Vernal location.


VERNAL--The Utah Assistive Technology Lab has changed its name and address. But when it comes to helping people find the equipment that keeps them independent, coordinator Cameron Cressall remains as dedicated as ever.

"Nothing is changing," he said. "We are still serving Duchesne, Uintah and Daggett counties."

The facility—now called the Utah Assistive Technology Program—has moved to 2574 West 500 North, #2 in Vernal. It remains part of the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University, and will continue to serve people who come to the office with an assistive technology need. 

The Vernal location has a bus stop nearby.

In addition, Cressall said he will still travel to meet the needs of Uintah Basin clients outside of the Vernal area, though he encourages people to come to the office if at all possible.  “Just call and make an appointment,” he said.

Volunteers from both Vernal and Roosevelt helped Cressall make the move on Tuesday. "I am deeply touched by all the help I received," he said. "We got help from 4-H in Uintah and Duchesne counties, and community members of all ages helped us out, too. They showed up with three vehicles and two trailers. We finished the move in one night!"

action photo with smiling teenagers
4-H volunteers load up a trailer during the move.
"We had a good time and we really appreciate Cameron giving us the opportunity to help," said Traci Frost, 4-H coordinator in Uintah County. Her teen council showed up for some heavy lifting.

"Cameron does so much for a lot of people in the community," said Mindy Mair, who helped coordinate volunteers. "This was a way we could pay him back."

The change of address will help people in Vernal get to know UATP services better as well. The organization’s mission is to put assistive technology—or devices that improve or maintain independence—into the hands of Utahns who need it. Clients can access UATP’s demonstration and loan library to see what devices are available and try before they buy. They can receive refurbished equipment or even work with Cressall to customize AT for their particular needs. Finally, people can apply to UATP for small grants or loans to make assistive technology more affordable.

Over the past year, 214 people received either a loaned, custom-built, adapted or refurbished device from UATP in the Uintah Basin. That equipment helped people's mobility in their homes and communities. It allowed them to adapt their homes to accommodate a disability, to learn at school, or to work independently.

UATP also has locations in Logan and Salt Lake City. The small grants and loans are available to Utahns anywhere in the state.

For more information about UATP in the Uintah Basin, contact Cameron Cressall at 435-767-1719 or visit the UATP website at uatpat.org.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Getting camera-ready: how AT helped a CPD intern work independently


Clay attaches an iPad to modular hose, fixed to Bryson's wheelchair
Clay and Bryson try out an early design
When Bryson Carpenter started work as an intern with the Center for Persons with Disabilities, he had some barriers to overcome. He would be shooting video and photos for the CPD, but it was hard to do that independently at first.

Bryson, a freshman at Utah State University, is on the CPD’s media team.

“The goal was to pretty much have something that I could do entirely on my own,” he said. To make it happen, he needed to operate an iPad. But Bryson needed something to hold the iPad up where he could see it. He also needed a way to operate it without using the touch screen.

So he talked to Clay Christensen at the Utah Assistive Technology Program in Logan. UATP is part of the CPD at Utah State University, and its mission is to help people find assistive technology that improves their independence.

AbleNet Blue2 switch. It's big.
Clay and Bryson used the accessible features already built into the iPad to help Bryson operate it. They added a big-button Bluetooth switch (the AbleNet Blue2). When Bryson touches the switch, it’s the same as tapping on the touch screen.  

Then, they used modular hose to hold the iPad up where Bryson could see it. The modular hose works well in a lot of applications, but this one wasn’t a great fit. “Whenever I would drive it would just slowly fall over,” he said. “I was afraid it would fall off.”

So Bryson and Clay got together again, and they settled on a fixed bar with an attached Velcro surface to hold the iPad up. Clay bolted the arm to the tray already fixed to Bryson’s wheelchair.

“It’s always a bit of trial and error,” Clay said. But the end, customized result worked for Bryson, who uses the arm, iPad and switch it as he shoots photos and videos for the CPD.

The CPD also adapted Bryson’s workspace to make sure his computer screen was the right height. To operate the computer, he uses a tiny mouse called a Sanwa supply ring mouse. A regular-sized mouse won’t work for him, but Bryson said this tiny one works fine—and with it he can access and respond to emails.

“It’s good,” he said. “I like it.”

If you live in Utah and would like to find out more about assistive technology that could work for you, visit the UATP website or call 800-524-5152.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Logan man keeps up with work, avoids injury thanks to loaned scooter

portrait
Dean Luthi at work, on his new-to-him scooter.
LOGAN--Dean Luthi had some difficulty standing and walking at work at Lowe's in Logan, where he ran the self-checkout. He talked to his manager and they gave him a parking space close to the store and tried putting a seat in his work station. They put his employee card on a lanyard so that he could easily scan it at the register when he needed to help a customer.

Still, the up-and-down action was difficult. Once, Dean fell and had to miss work. "I was out for seven days and I messed up my shoulder," he said.

Most days, injury or not, he was worn out by the time he went home. He was also having a hard time using the break room--it was just too far away.

His manager, Joey Wolford, knew the problem was real. "Dean's a ray of sunshine. He probably has the best attitude of anybody I've ever met," he said. "If he could work here all the time, he would."

Mike Stokes, who volunteers at the Utah Assistive Technology Program in Logan, saw Dean as he was there at Lowe's, picking up some materials the store had donated for a different UATP project. He also saw Wolford in the store.

"Mike is my old assistant soccer coach," Wolford said.

Stokes and Wolford arranged an introduction with Luthi, and the work began to find a scooter he could use on loan from UATP. They found one, and Luthi began working more safely.

"When I got the scooter I didn't have to worry bout falling," he said.

He also received a walker on loan from UATP to help him walk the halls of Bridgerland Technical College, where he is studying to be an auto and diesel technician.

"My goal is to open my own shop," he said.

Information about equipment available for loan from UATP is available in an earlier post.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Custom repair solves a problem with style

a modified joystick on a wheelchair sports a knobby piece of antler
It's not unusual for UATP's staff members to come up with a customized, simple solution to a problem. But this one has style.
ROOSEVELT--Utah Assitive Technology Program client Joel "Montana" Filmore was having trouble operating his power wheelchair. He kept accidentally hitting buttons while he used the joystick. When the joystick knob fell off while he was in town,  he was unable to pick it up.

Fortunately, UATP's Uintah Basin coordinator, Cameron Cressall, was in the neighborhood when Filmore called. He picked the knob off the sidewalk and delivered it to Filmore's house.

Portrait
Montana Filmore
"While we were there, he talked about some of the problems he was having maneuvering his power wheelchair," Cressall said. "We discussed some adaptions we could make to his joystick that might help. He suddenly got an idea."

Filmore asked Cressall to retrieve an old deer antler from the corner of his apartment and asked if a new knob could be made of that.

With that, Cressall and student employee Brandon Griffin were on the job. "We got to work, and with a cut here, sand there and a hole drilled, we made him a new knob," Cressall said. The result: a joystick that is taller, larger and easier to work with limited fine motor skills.

Also, it's got Filmore's personality all over it.

"He says it will keep him from accidentally hitting buttons that interfere with operating his chair, won't fall off and is easier for him to maneuver," Cressall said. "He loves the antler knob."




Wednesday, July 18, 2018

New scooter broadens the life of Logan man

portrait of John
John Montour
LOGAN--John Montour  doesn't remember why he passed by the Utah Assistive Technology Program's lab in Logan, or exactly when it happened. He just remembers seeing lots and lots of wheelchair parts, and people working on wheelchairs.

But the memory came back during desperate time in his life, after he had received one bit of bad news after another. His health was failing and his world seemed smaller and smaller. Doctors recommended he not stand for long periods. Then he was told not to drive. He could not walk too much, or climb stairs. He had to stop riding the BMX bike that he regarded as his friend.

It seemed the only times he got out of the house were for medical appointments--and those were not happy occasions. Meanwhile, he faced a long wait for equipment that would help.

"I was just stuck. Stuck. There was no way I could find a way outside at all," he said. But as he remembered watching the people working on wheelchairs at the Utah Assistive Technology Program's lab, he wondered if they could help him find a solution.

"He came in and explained his situation," said Clay Christensen, who coordinates the UATP lab in Logan. He showed Montour some scooters the program had available.

Montour is using one on loan. And now, as he puts it, he is free.

He can go to the library, the Senior Citizens' Center. He shops at the grocery store, and the former chore feels like a privilege.  He's been to the Logan zoo with Common Ground in Logan. He even tosses bread to the duck he's been looking out for--the one who is always at the end of the line, getting picked on by the others.

Recently, he made the trip back to UATP's lab, to tell Christensen how his life had changed. He agreed to share his story.

"If another person can find what I've found... for me it was a reprieve from the destinies that were isolating me," he said.





Thursday, July 5, 2018

The difference a wheelchair makes

Jennifer Holland

SALT LAKE CITY--Jennifer Holland's new-to-her wheelchair from the Utah Assistive Technology Program gives her more than the freedom to go to the grocery store. It gives her the strength to shop once she gets there.

"Before, it took so much energy to use my walker to get to the bus stop or whatever, but then I couldn't do anything else. So this is great!"

Jennifer's eyes are closed as she arches an arm over her head
Jennifer practices wheelchair yoga
on her new-to-her device.
Jennifer embodies the freedom that assistive technology offers people with disabilities. She received her chair after a visit to the Judy Ann Buffmire Building in Salt Lake City, where UATP coordinator Tom Boman worked with her to find the right fit for her needs. Ken Reid of the Utah Center for Assistive Technology also assessed Holland to make sure the chair was right for her.

The chair--like hundreds of others--was donated to UATP, then refurbished in its Salt Lake warehouse. Holland received it after paying a service fee. Typically the fee for a chair is less than an insurance deductible.

After one month in her new wheels, she has more freedom to participate in favorite activities, like wheelchair tennis or other adaptive sports offered through the TRAILS (Technology Recreation Access Independence Lifestyle Sports) program in Salt Lake City.

It also maneuvers over bumps, offering a smooth ride she didn't have before. "I do more now than I did before I accepted [I had] disabilities," she said. "It makes it so I can go places, especially in this particular chair, because it makes the ride so much easier. ... I feel safe."

An added feature doesn't have much to do with mobility, but it adds a lot to Jennifer's quality of life. The chair reclines, making it easier for her read. She can find the right angle, making a favorite activity happen with a lot less strain.

Reclining in her chair, Jennifer reads in her living room

Salt Lake's Utah Assistive Technology Program Coordinator Tom Boman said that soon after he and Ken had assessed Jennifer's needs, the perfect device appeared at the warehouse. It doesn't always happen that way, but when it does, it's a beautiful thing to see.

"It came in, we cleaned it off, put new batteries in it and kicked it out the door," Boman said.

If you need mobility equipment, the Utah Assistive Technology Program can help. Hundreds of people have received wheelchairs, scooters and other devices though UATP's operations in Salt Lake, Logan and the Uintah Basin. The affordable fee-for-service program helps people regardless of whether they have insurance.

To find out more, call 800-524-5152.

Monday, June 11, 2018

New Voting Options for the June Primary Election


A man with a white cane, wearing headphones, votes using a new machine.

By Eliza Stauffer

Change is coming to 19 counties in Utah. It’s an event that has disability activists and assistive technology enthusiasts cheering—we’re getting brand new accessible voting machines!

While most Utah counties vote primarily by mail, other options are available; many voters enjoy the experience of going to the polls and casting their vote. Every county offers electronic voting machines as a way to ensure that voters who have a difficult time reading or marking a paper ballot, can vote privately and independently.  Voting machines have been around for at least 13 years. Still, there are always ways to improve ease of use, and the new voting machines have been designed with that goal in mind.

Note: Counties debuting the ES&S Machines this month: Box Elder, Cache, Daggett, Davis, Duchesne, Garfield, Grand, Iron, Kane, Millard, Rich, Sanpete, Sevier, Summit, Tooele, Uintah, Wasatch, Wayne and Weber.


The system has many accessibility features. The machines have an audio capability that can read the ballot to the voter. A voter can also increase the font size and contrast of the print to make it easier to read. Voters who cannot see the screen can turn it off to ensure that their vote is private. Many voters who tested the machines found them easier to navigate. Voters can use a touchscreen or keypad to select their choices, or even plug in adaptive tech like sip & puff or foot controlled devices.

The new equipment adopted by most Utah counties was selected after a rigorous review by a selection committee comprised of election officials, security experts and disability advocates who specialize in accessibility. The committee also took into account feedback from the public who had tried out the machines at a public reception.  The selection committee wrote that “The Election Systems & Software (ES&S) accessible voting solution combines paper-based voting with touch-screen technology to meet the needs of voters with disabilities as well as provide a permanent paper record”. The machines don’t record your vote, they just help you mark it. Once complete, it prints it out and you submit your ballot into the same scanning machine as those who make their marks by hand.

While many Utah counties will have these new machines, some will not. Counties sometimes work on different timelines and budgeting procedures. For example, Beaver and Utah counties moved forward with leasing or purchasing  new equipment from different vendors during recent years.  Other counties are waiting for the expenses to be approved by their governing body. Some election officials are content with the older equipment for now. These counties will still have electronic voting machines, they just are not the newest ones.

The ES&S machines will be making their debut this June for the Primary Election. 

If you missed the deadline to mail in your registration don’t fear, you can still register to vote! June 19th is the last day you can register online at www.vote.utah.gov, or at your county clerk’s office. Another option is to register to vote at a polling place. Remember, you’ll need to take your I.D. 

The Disability Law Center is happy to answer any questions you might have about voter registration, where you can go to vote or voting on these new machines! Feel free to reach out to us at 800-662-9080. In fact, we are collecting stories/experiences from people who choose to go vote in person. If you’re planning on going to the polls, let us know and you can become one of our Mystery Voters! Contact Eliza: estauffer@disabilitylawcenter.org to learn more.


Blog post author Eliza Stauffer is a voting activist and an intern at the Disability Law Center. She is also a former Ms. Wheelchair America.

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.