Tuesday, May 21, 2019

UATP financing helps veteran receive a van to fit his spirit

action photo
Bryan and Kim demonstrate the lift in his new van.
SANDY--As an outdoor enthusiast, Bryan Rowe skied, snow-boarded and mountain biked through Utah’s stunning landscapes. As a member of the US armed forces, he went to northern Iraq after the Gulf War to help provide comfort, build roads and manage refugee camps. As a custom woodworker, he has literally left his mark in many Utah landmarks, including the Utah State Capitol, the Salt Lake Library, the First Presbyterian Church of Salt Lake City and the Coffee Garden on 9th and 9th. 

As an army veteran with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), he needs some customization of his own. The degenerative, neurological disease has affected his movement, and getting in and out of his truck became more difficult. 

In the fall of 2018, Bryan and his friend Kim Olmore began looking for an adapted van that could transport him and the wheelchair he received from the Veterans’ Administration. (When this interview took place in May 2019, the ALS had affected Bryan’s speech. Kim offered some background and interpreted for him.) They knew he would also need financing that would help pay for the modifications, which would drive the price of the van well above its blue book value. 

They learned of the Utah Assistive Technology Program’s reduced-interest loans and began working with Lois Summers, UATP’s financing coordinator. UATP is part of the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University.

Summers and UATP partner Zions Bank put together a loan that financed the van Bryan wanted—a Ram Promaster. 

The conversions were done in a way that would not affect the van’s warranty, Kim said.

They bought the van from a dealer in the Midwest. The dealership manager’s father drove it out to them over the Thanksgiving holiday, free of charge. “It’s just a unique breed of people when it comes to this type of situation,” Kim said. “It was amazing customer service.”

The van features a lift system that allows Bryan to keep a lower profile in his wheelchair, so he can see out of the windows. It also has a back bench seat that allows for the transport of additional passengers. He’s used it to see friends and attend barbecues, and he hopes to make a trip to the Oregon Coast to see his parents. 

The van purchase would not have happened without UATP, Bryan said. “I got the van to fit my spirit.”

Bryan, Kim and Elsie, Bryan's Vizsla dog.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

USU's engineering design night features low-cost trike

students pose with the bike
Student designers from left to right: Nathan Linville,
Zachary Wilson, Connor Toone and Liz Housley
Students from Utah State University's College of Engineering partnered with the Utah Assistive Technology Program and Intermountain Pediatric Rehabilitation to build a therapeutic trike. This ongoing project could open up more opportunities for families to work on a youngster's physical therapy at home.

Students from USU's Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering department, UATP volunteer Mike Stokes and Intermountain Pediatric Rehabilitation physical therapist Shaun Dahle collaborated on the project. They showed it off during Senior Design Night at Utah State University.

Several versions of therapeutic trikes are on the market, but they are more expensive and less adjustable than the prototype created by the engineering students. The group consulted with Dahle and UATP volunteer Stokes as they crafted their design. "We've used every kind of trike, so we know [what works]," Dahle said.

"There is a need for families to have a lower-cost alternative to these special needs trikes," said Stokes. "The goal is that through the [UATP] lab, we'll rebuild these based on need. The students will be giving us a set of plans, they kept track of where they bought the parts. We will just build as many as there's a need for."

UATP, which is part of the Center for Persons with Disabilities, paid for materials used in developing the trike. The plan now is to use donated time, labor and equipment at UATP in Logan to construct additional trikes for families who pay for materials. "We're looking at families who cannot afford or do not have insurance, and we will build it... we can save them money," Stokes said.

The bike project is currently awaiting the university's approval before the design can be used off-campus.

The trike could benefit children who have not yet walked or crawled, Dahle said. "I've taken kids that you'd think would never ride a bike... This actually teaches kids how to reciprocate their legs." The act of pushing one pedal after the other is similar to the motion needed for walking or crawling, he said. "A lot of kids that don't do those things can ride this bike."

The trike can be made for $580 in material and parts (expertise and welding equipment not included).   The plan would make the equipment available at 40 to 15 percent of the cost of therapeutic trikes that are currently on the market.

The students' design also includes some built-in, improved usability.

"We took cues from existing designs," said Nathan Linville, one of the project's team members. One feature their trike had that existing designs did not: a seat that could be adjusted up and down, forward and back. It also allows the child to power the bike by pushing the pedals, or to "freewheel" while the parents push. This would allow the parents to still push a child home if the child's legs became tired or stiff.

The students who worked on the project included Linville, Liz Housley, Connor Toone and Zachary Wilson.

The project's people cluster around a version of the trike
Project manager Derek Scott, volunteer Mike Stokes and the four students work on a version of the trike in the metal factory at Utah State University. Photo courtesy of Intermountain Healthcare.


Tuesday, April 30, 2019

UATP director, volunteer receive awards

Sachin poses with his award, flanked by two officials
Dr. Pavithran received his award at a ceremony on the Utah State University campus.

Two people from the UATP organization were recognized this month for their service to the community. We are proud to work with them!

Dr. Sachin Pavithran

Sachin received the Utah State University Presidential Award for Civic and Community Engagement in the staff category, recognizing his leadership in advancing collaboration between USU and the greater community. He was nominated “for his tireless advocacy on behalf of persons with disabilities,” according to a press release from USU’s Center for Community Engagement. “He’s worked internationally, with federal agencies in the U.S., with individual states and countless individuals, and recently assumed the policy director role in the Center for Persons with Disabilities. His work for CPD using a data- driven approach to advocacy for civil rights and inclusion at all levels of society makes USU a leader in giving people with disabilities a voice in public policy.”

Volunteer Mike Stokes 

Mike was recognized by the CPD’s Public & School Partnership during the organization’s National Service and Volunteer Recognition Day awards, for his tireless contributions to the Utah Assistive Technology Program. He received a certificate from UServeUtah, signed by Lt. Governor Spencer Cox.

Mike shakes hands with Bora Lee
Mike Stokes receives his award in Logan's Historic Courthouse

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Happy National Assistive Technology Awareness Day! Here's a look at the future of AT.

March 27 is National Assistive Technology Awareness Day--and it's a great opportunity to celebrate the past and future of assitive technology. (Take a look at UATP's history at the bottom of this post.)

Chance paints using a prosthetic arm with an attachment to hold a brush
Chance with Version Two of a
UATP-designed device
As for the future, UATP has taken its first steps into 3D printed prosthetics--and it's exciting times here at UATP!

UATP was approached by teachers at Arrowhead Elementary in Santa Clara, Utah, who wanted Chance to be able to color with his friends at school. He would color by holding the crayons in his mouth. The system was working pretty well, especially if he switched to markers, said Chance's father, Richard Hirschi. Still, "All our crayons at home keep getting bitten in half."

Richard said his family likes to let Chance work through problems on his own. "We let him get as far as he can before we give him the next tool to get over the next barrier," he said.

Richard and Chance gave a new tool a try in February, when they met UATP's Logan Interim Lab Coordinator Dan O'Crowley and volunteer Mike Stokes in Salt Lake City. (Chance's wheelchair was being serviced at Shriner's Hospital.) Dan and Mike tried out their first prototype of a prosthetic arm. They quickly decided Version One was too long, but they modified it on the spot, made some more observations, then returned to the lab to work up Version Two.

"We realized there was a learning curve to that first design that was too long," said Dan. "Version two is very simple. We hope that once he learns to use it, we could maybe incorporate a little more sophistication into future designs."

Chance tried that one this month at school. The video below shows him using the next prototype to write on the computer.

UATP in Logan will continue working with 3D printed prosthetics. "3D printing is amazing, but it's not going to solve all the problems," said Dan. "This bridges the gap to make designs that an insurance company will not pay for." Sometimes a client's needs and desires are very different from the device insurance will cover, but 3D printing allows for an inexpensive, individualized alternative.

Since 1989, UATP's focus has always been on connecting people to the devices that help them gain or retain independence. Technologies come and go, but UATP continues helping people to find affordable solutions.

Here's a quick look at our history:

  • In 1989, Utah was one of nine states that received funding to establish a statewide program for assistive technology. The Utah Assistive Technology Program was then established at Utah State University, as part of the Center for Persons with Disabilities. From these beginnings, assistive technology programs became available nationwide.
  • In 1991, the UATP's financing program was established to help make AT affordable to Utahns. These services are available to clients statewide. 
  • In 1993, the AT Laboratory was established in what was then the Industrial Technology Education department at Utah State University. It was soon made part of the Utah Assistive Technology Program, where devices are modified, customized or built from the ground up to serve individual needs. These services are offered in addition to UATP's device reuse and demonstration and loan programs. The lab has also provided training to students who 
  • In 2006, UATP established its Salt Lake City location (formerly CReATE). The SLC facility focuses specifically on the reuse of mobility equipment by refurbishing donated devices and transferring them to people who need them, for an affordable fee. 
  • In 2017, UATP opened its Uintah Basin facility. Like its counterpart in Logan, UATP in the Uintah Basin provides demonstration and loan, device reuse, customization and financing services to Utahns in the region.
Rick leans over a project, wearing safety glasses. Power tools are in the background.
Rick Escobar, one of UATP's earliest employees, works in the AT Lab.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Notes from the trenches: Volunteer Mike Stokes shares some solutions for seniors

Mike demonstrates a liftware  spoon
Mike Stokes demonstrates assistive technology at Utah State University.

UATP volunteer Mike Stokes has experienced caregiver worries: how to make sure a loved one with dementia doesn't wander into danger, fall out of a wheelchair or fall out of bed. He wanted to know if an elderly parent is drinking enough to avoid dehydration, but he didn't want to violate their privacy.

"They want their independence, but you want to be there," he said.

Mike also wanted to solve problems affordably, in ways allowed by landlords and as needs change in senior housing complexes and care facilities. "They don't want you to come in and wire things and put in monitors," he said.

With a knack for solving problems, Mike found some things that help which he shared with the Utah Assistive Technology Program. 

Before we share these tips, please note: this technology is meant to supplement quality care, not replace it.

Solution 1: motion detectors.

When a loved one with dementia came to stay with Mike and his wife, Cindy, they were concerned about her waking up and wandering in the middle of the night. They tried sleeping while listening for her to make sure she didn't wander out of the house. It was exhausting. 

So Mike found a wireless motion detector for $15 and installed it in the hallway. When their loved one left the bedroom and entered the hall, it alerted them with a loud chime.

"We just put it on our nightstand so we could get some restful sleep," he said.

Solution 2: magnetic and pressure alarms

A $20 magnetic alarm let the Stokes family know when their loved one was trying to get out of a wheelchair--a move that would put them at risk of falling.

A wireless bed alarm and sensor pad also helped alert them when their loved one was getting out of bed and might need help. (An online search turns up many brands that do this, at varying prices and consumer ratings.)

These solutions worked in a number of different settings and did not require wiring.

Solution 3: Smart door and window sensors

It was important for Mike to know if his parents were drinking enough water to avoid getting dehydrated, but he wanted them to feel like their privacy was respected. His solution was to make sure drinks were in the fridge, then install a wireless sensor on the refrigerator door that would send a notification to his phone when the door opened.

An internet search turned up a number of smart sensor options and prices, ranging from $15 to $60.

Solution 4: Smart home technology

UATP posted a training on smart home technology on our YouTube channel. Bryan Carroll of the Utah Center for Assistive Technology demonstrates Amazon Echo and Google Home smart speakers, compares them, and shows how they can be integrated into smart home technology. He offers a voice-activated experience that can turn on lights, lock doors, set the thermostat, and make phone calls. View the training here:

Friday, March 8, 2019

Intermountain West will soon have another AT lab

Future Idaho facility drew inspiration from UATP

A group looks at a specialized spoon
BYU-I visitors examine a Liftware Level spoon in UATP's demonstration
and loan library.
A new assistive technology fabrication lab is slated to open in the Intermountain West—and it has drawn some inspiration from the Utah Assistive Technology Program.

“It’s one of the few AT labs in the country where they make custom made assistive technology,” said Dean Cloward, professor in Special Education at Brigham Young Univerisity-Idaho. “Idaho doesn’t do that.” 

BYU-Idaho now plans to launch its own fabrication lab to serve people in southeastern Idaho. The area has similar demographics to northern Utah, Cloward said, with similar needs in special education. Idaho families with a need for custom-made assistive technology have gone to Utah in the past.

Visitors from BYU-I have come to Utah State University’s UATP off and on for years, but on the most recent visit included faculty members interested in the launch of the Idaho lab. Its focus will be more on serving children, while the Utah lab serves people of all ages and abilities.

The BYU-I visit included a stop at the Smart Apartment in the Sorenson Legacy Foundation’s Center for Clinical Excellence. The apartment is stocked with high- and low-tech assistive devices. “We’ve seen most of those technologies, but not in one place, not where they’re all used in conjunction with eachother,” Cloward said. “It was interesting to see … how it could be used to assess someone with disabilities and see how they could interact with the technology.”

The Idaho lab is expected to open in Fall 2019.

Mike Stokes in the smart apartment
Volunteer Mike Stokes demonstrates some low-tech grab bars.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

UATP welcomes VISTA member, expands outreach to Utah’s minorities

Bora Lee will help us reach out to minorities in Utah. If you
would like her to meet with your group, contact her at

Twelve years ago, Bora Lee went to Los Angeles with a plan: get a master’s degree in graphic design. Instead, she discovered a new path: one that eventually brought her to the Utah Assistive Technology Program.

She is an AmeriCorp VISTA member who will work with UATP to reach out to Utah’s underserved populations for one year. “I wanted to contribute to the community what I’ve learned,” she said. “This was a way I could give back.”

In LA, she worked with immigrant children and families with disabilities for a private organization; first in a preschool and later with a weekend program for the families of people with disabilities.

It sparked a lot of thought for her, knowing that people emigrated to the United States hoping for a better life for their children. But especially for families of children with disabilities, the reality fell far short of the American dream. Students with disabilities went to school, but once they finished their public education, a lot of them ended up spending all their time at home.

Do you know someone who needs UATP’s services, but does not speak English? We now have a service that connects us to interpreters who speak 24 languages. Call 800-524-5152 and we will get you started!
“For minorities it is a lot harder to find resources,” she said. They have to overcome so many barriers: of trust, of language, and of just knowing who to ask for help.

It became a focus of study. She earned a master’s in special education with a focus on moderate to severe disabilities. Now, in addition to her work with UATP and Americorp VISTA, she is completing an Ed.D, focusing on transition to adulthood for minority students with disabilities.

At UATP, she is busy talking to organizations, individuals and families about the services UATP can offer.

“I received so much, and I wanted to give back what I’ve learned for a year,” she said. “The more I work with people with disabilities, the more I feel like I’m gaining more from them.”

Get involved:

Do you have suggestions on how UATP can better serve minorities in Utah? Would you like Bora to meet with your group? You can contact her at 435-797-0466.

Do you know someone who needs UATP’s services, but does not speak English? We now have a service that connects us to interpreters who speak 24 languages. Call 800-524-5152 and we will get you started!

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

3D printer in Logan helps build customized AT, gets its own specialized home

Bryce Hampton with Dan O'Crowley, in front of the housing they created for the
3D printer.

LOGAN--The Utah Assistive Technology Program in Logan has added a 3D printer to its fabrication lab. It gives our staff yet another way to customize assistive technology to meet the specific needs of clients. 

For example, it helped a boy who struggled with motor control in his right leg to ride his bike, after UATP employees Brandon Griffin helped design a pedal that solved the problem of a foot that kept sliding off the pedal.

The boy really likes riding his bike (he calls it his motorcycle).

Brandon Griffin came to UATP Logan after working
in the Uintah Basin location.
Griffin was able to print a pedal that kept the foot from sliding. That bit of custom-made AT was also “low profile;” it wasn’t clunky or noticeably different from the pedals of other boys’ bikes. “It seemed to work really well, and he was very excited to have his ‘motorcycle’ back,” Griffen said.

But as it turned out, UATP’s powerful new customization tool needed some adjustments of its own. When the UATP technicians used material that is able to withstand higher temperatures and higher stress, they were having trouble, especially if the print was more than a half-inch tall.

That material—called ABS plastic—needed to be kept at a warmer, more constant temperature than the air around it could provide. So technician Dan O’Crowley worked on it with Bryce Hampton, an intern who came to UATP via the Aggies Elevated program.

close-up of pedal with a small ridge that prevents the foot from sliding off
 A 3D printed pedal, customized for the boy
who will use it.
Rather than heat up the room where the printer was, they decided to trap the heat the machine created by building a box around it. It could hold in the heat the printer created, maintaining a more constant temperature.

Some other requirements: it had to be lightweight and inexpensive, so that it could be replaced easily and wouldn’t damage the printer if it was bumped. They settled on an old UATP standby—tri-wall cardboard—and added in some plexiglass windows so they could observe the print in progress.

They also needed two doors, but were momentarily stumped on how to add hinges to their tri-wall design. “Bryce came up with the idea of just cutting through the tri-wall except for that last layer,” O’Crowley said.

The result: UATP’s powerful tool now has a home within a home. ABS prints turn out better. AT lab technicians continue to beef up their printing skills. And assistive technology in Utah takes another big step into the future.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

UATP classifieds: helping Utahns access affordable AT statewide

magnifying glass over "Utah Assistive Technology Program Classifieds," uatpat.org
Do you have a gently used device to sell or give away? Do you need a gently used device? The Utah Assistive Technology Program announces the UATP Classifieds: our newest comprehensive means of helping Utahns access the equipment they need, regardless of where they live in the state.

The new online service connects device sellers and donors directly to people who need technology to be more independent.

Examples of equipment that can be advertised include mobility equipment, adapted vans, environmental adaptions, technology to aid with communication or learning, daily living, adapted computer technology and much more.

Sellers and donors can use the service to ensure their equipment can help someone else, once it is no longer needed.

To use the service, register online for UATP Classifieds. You can then search available devices or post a device of your own. Devices are searchable by device type (mobility or daily living, for example) and by list type (free, priced, priced or best offer).

Items posted will be subject to review before they can be viewed publicly. UATP provides a place for buyers, sellers, donors and recipients to meet, but UATP is a third party that is not involved in the exchange, liability or monetary transaction of devices on the site.

You can always find a link to the UATP Classifieds on the UATP website homepage. Just visit the page, scroll down and hit the "access UATP classifieds" button.