Monday, October 12, 2020

We've moved! Visit our blog on our new website.

movers carring boxes

The Utah Assistive Technology Program Blog now has a new home with the same helpful content. It is now embedded in our new website so that we can all be one happy family!

To get there, visit, click on the "blog" tab, or scroll down to see our latest stories. (If you have our old website saved on your browser, don't worry. Our old address will forward to our new one. But now, you won't have to leave our website to read our blog.)

Some other features of the new website: Spanish language content, more information on demonstration, loans and person-to-person exchanges of assistive technology in Utah, and easier-to-find information on AT financing. 

Tell your friends!

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Accessible Times: The UATP Podcast episode 3

Touch as a learning tool is very underutilized. Here's why.

Sheri Wells-Jensen
photo credit: Kate Kamphius 

In this second episode dedicated to tactile learning, Dr. Sheri Wells-Jensen of Bowling Green State University points out the advantages of tactile exploration, not just for the Blind but for everyone. She also discusses the cultural barriers that get between the Blind and their right to explore their world. Finally, she finishes up with a book recommendation--because apparently several writers have tried to create a "blind alien," but not all of them have done it well.

You can find Accessible Times: The UATP Podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcast, Stitcher and BuzzSprout.

1:00 – Sheri reveals that one of her interests is understanding cognition, intelligence and language. She also wonders, if we met another species, what would their thinking and language be like?

2:00 – There is a level of public misunderstanding about what blind people do and do not know about the world. For example, they would understand that a cathedral is large and impressive, but a 3D model could help them distinguish one cathedral from another.

5:45 – Looking at objects does have disadvantages, compared to feeling them. For example, it doesn’t work well in low light. 

9:00 – Tactile exploration can help people understand more—not just for the Blind but for everyone. However, more and more learning is shifting to digital, which does not translate to tactile information well.

10:50 – Geerat Vermeij at UC Davis is a blind scientist who has expanded the world’s understanding of mollusks through his own tactile exploration.

11:30 – Sighted children are shown how to explore visually from the beginning, but too often blind children are told, “Don’t touch." 

13:30 – 3D models can help communicate what a constellation is like, much more quickly than a description.

15:48 – Models can help you recall what an object is like, even if you have seen it before but haven’t seen it in a while 

16:50 – Sheri takes on the story of the blind men and the elephant. It’s a terrible story that shows the blind men were not allowed to fully explore an elephant. But in her experience, it is very exciting to explore a live elephant—so much so that it’s hard to remember any data after the exploration is done. Models can help with that.

19:00 – Statues and kids’ toys often misrepresent the object they depict.

19:45 – One of the challenges of making a 3D model is deciding what is prototypical.

21:39 – Should a 3D model communicate color differences on a penguin that is otherwise tactilely uniform? 

 23:30 – A cat’s fur can vary a lot over its body. This can be tricky to represent in a model.

24:35 – Our cultural idea of touching something has limits; often the sighted person’s hand directs a child’s hands when they are touching an object.

26:00 – Does a blind child have the permission to touch an object with the same freedom that a sighted child is allowed to look at it?

28:00 – 3D models don’t just allow a detailed exploration, they also allow privacy. They let the explorer look at something for as long as they’d like, without worrying that other people are waiting.

29:30 – The idea that touch is destructive is another barrier to learning.

30:00 – A 3D printed object will have its own texture, not necessarily the texture of the thing it represents.

31:12 – So far, model technology doesn’t usually give us a 100 percent accurate picture of an item. But Sheri argues that it’s not a question of whether we can produce the models, but whether we will.  

32:00 – Sheri leaves us will a book recommendation for a well-written, “blind alien” book: The Darkling Sea by James Cambias.



Monday, August 17, 2020

UATP small grant helps a boy communicate


Jennifer holds David while he uses the iPad
Jennifer, David and the iPad

Last month, David Kojorski received an iPad with a protective case, through a small grant from the Utah Assistive Technology Program. Since then, his mother, Jennifer, has noticed some changes in her son, who is Autistic.

"He seems happier that he has another way that he can get what he wants," she said. "When he got it, he definitely got this, 'I'm so fly' attitude."

The communication program on the iPad has pictures of things he wants: juice, chicken nuggets, his favorite Buzz Lightyear toy. He touches the pictures to let his family know what he wants, and the iPad--now a communication device--says the words.

"At first he didn't repeat what it says, but now he does," said Jennifer. "With this, he'll be able to perfect the sounds and grow his vocabulary. ... The sounds are coming out."

The family wouldn't have been able to receive the iPad without the small grant, Jennifer said. "Not now. Not with COVID destroying everything."

The Utah Assistive Technology Program offers small grants of up to $400 for people who need a device. Some income restrictions apply. UATP also offers reduced-interest loans to help people purchase the devices they need. For more information, visit the UATP financing page.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

UATP says goodbye to SLC coordinator

Tom Boman, rear left, had an organizing party at UATP in Salt Lake City, then invited friends and volunteers to join in a celebration lunch back in 2019. Pictured here with Ken Reid (front), Thomas Williams, Michael Luecke and Ed Patillo.

 By JoLynne Lyon

Tom Boman has left the Utah Assistive Technology Program in Salt Lake City. We wish him the best, and we are not alone. He helped many hundreds of Utahns get rolling.


“It’s quite common for some of the mobility devices we transfer to almost become an extension of people’s bodies,” he said in an earlier interview. He has a great sense of humor, but he took the job of giving, improving and restoring clients' mobility seriously.


In the four years I’ve been with the Utah Assistive Technology Program, I’ve talked to a steady stream of people who needed mobility equipment, and found it with Tom’s help. Some didn’t have insurance. Some had insurance, but their provider’s requirements would not allow them to get a new chair when it was needed. Typically insurance pays for a new chair every 5 years, but children grow, chairs break, warranties expire and needs change. Sometimes, even when insurance provides a chair, it’s only after months of waiting. Tom and UATP helped to bridge those gaps for people who still needed to move.


“What a godsend,” said Steven Bryggman of Salt Lake City in an earlier interview. “I have a chair that’s reliable. I still have my independence.” 


“Tom’s a lifesaver,” said Shelly Lund of Ability 1st in Provo, who turned to Tom to help fill the needs of her clients. “If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t be able to help as many people throughout the year.”


“I’m so independent in [my chair], I feel like a movie star,” said Karen Duckworth of Magna.


If you needed a piece of mobility equipment, Tom would find you one, and the fee was almost always lower than an insurance deductible.


He did it all by receiving and refurbishing donated wheelchairs, taking some apart so that their parts could be used on others, and—here is the hard part—keeping track of it all. He pulled in volunteers and worked alongside them, fueled by classic rock and Red Vines licorice.


“When he came to us from Deseret Industries on their work exchange program, I had only worked with him for a week and realized that he would be perfect for UATP in Salt Lake City,” said Clay Christensen, a former UATP coordinator. “His organizational skills were absolutely amazing. His ability to collaborate and work with anyone in the community was so essential to the growth and development of that program. To that end he did a wonderful job. 


“I will always cherish the time that I got to work alongside Tom. It was a great run.”


UATP is searching for its next SLC coordinator. To find out more, go to Utah State University’s Jobs Page, click “Join Us!” and look for job #2020-2804.


In the interim, Logan coordinator Dan O’Crowley will go to Salt Lake City on Tuesdays and Thursdays to work with clients and volunteers. New clients and equipment donations to the Salt Lake City facility are accepted by appointment only. To make an appointment, call UATP in Salt Lake City at 801-887-9390 or email Carolyn Lynch.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

UATP Accessible Times Podcast, episode 2: Tactile learning part 1, See3D

Caroline Karbowski, founder, See3D

In this episode, we meet Caroline Karbowski, founder of See3D, an organization that manages the printing and distribution of 3D models for the Blind. She's a student at Ohio State University who is building a network of volunteer printers.

We also meet several people who have used the service, who raise some fascinating questions about tactile learning. Lindsay Yazzolino, a Boston-area tactile designer, challenges the notion that "blind" means "sensory-impoverished." Tactile learning is a rich experience, she said.

We will explore tactile learning more in September's episode, in an interview with Sheri Wells-Jensen of Bowling Green State University.

1:00 - Caroline Karbowski tells how she started 
See3D, which began as a way to create models from unused 3D printer filament. It is now an official nonprofit.

4:40 - Caroline talks about the number of models the network has printed (more than 800 at the time of this recording).

5:12 - The Ohio Braille Challenge, a braille reading contest, is a big requester of models. The latest one was space-themed, with a lot of constellations.

5:45 - Caroline describes who does the printing, including her, her friends, educators and volunteers. 

7:18 - She is hoping to 
expand her network. Files are being shared on Thingiverse.

11:25 - Heiley Thurston talks about her experience with tactile learning. She used a model to better understand a fly.

12:09 - Bugs are popular requests.

12:33 -Lindsay Yazzolino, a tactile designer from the Boston area, talks about making hand-catching experiences--including a giant model of the human brain (done through a project outside of See3D).

14:36 - Rachel Hage, a certified assistive technology instruction specialist, used a 3D printed model of an eye to help her in her studies

16:25 - 3D models are a serious way to learn.

18:20 - 3D models of mummies allow people to explore a mummy without damaging it.

19:00 - Rachel used a 3D printed iPhone to help students understand how to use one.

24:55 - Caroline would love to connect with more people and inspire more creators. Maybe people who have to do a model for homework can do an assignment that would help people better understand the things around them.

26:05 - Lindsay argues against the notion that being blind means being deprived of sensory experience. 

27:05 - The next episode will explore the concept of tactile learning in more depth, featuring an interview with Sheri Wells-Jensen. Watch for it on September 2!


Monday, July 6, 2020

UATP'S "Accessible Times" podcast launches now!

Accessible tech from Microsoft: Don't forget the packaging!

Solomon Romney and Valeria Rodriguez of Microsoft

The first episode of Accessible Times: The UATP Podcast is now live! You can listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Stitcher—and it’s coming soon to many more services. You can also listen from the podcast website.

In this episode, we sat down with Solomon Romney, project manager for the Inclusive Tech Lab at Microsoft,  and Valeria Rodriguez, community development specialist for the City Creek Microsoft Store in Salt Lake City.

Together, they discuss the "why" of accessible technology. 

Resources from Solomon:

Microsoft Accessibility Features: "The single largest, most comprehensive list of Microsoft's accessibility features in the world. It has a step-by-step how-to guides, instructional videos, and download links organized by need group. It is updated regularly by our Disability Answer Desk Team."

Disability Answer Desk:(Microsoft) "This is a dedicated support team to assist people with using accessible technology. Many of them are people with disabilities who use the products they support, so their help is more knowledgable and empathetic than what you would find in a general support line."

Show notes:

0:30 - Game controllers used to be designed with certain assumptions. (Strength to hold it, motor skill to use it, ten fingers.)

4:00 - It's about reducing barriers, and they run the gamut. Low or no vision, low or no hearing, it runs across the spectrum. 

5:20 - It's not just about work, it's about entertainment.

6:40 - Examples of what you can do now that you couldn't do before.

8:00 - Learning tools for education that allow students to learn at their own pace, while teachers can customize to individual needs.

8:55 - Live captioning in PowerPoint allows everyone to be included, easily. "If it's hard, it's really not accessible," says Valeria.

14:00 - Solomon starts cataloging all the accessible features available at Microsoft.

18:00 - What problems are people trying to solve with assistive technology? "What I tell teachers is, you don't know. You don't know who's going to walk into your classroom on that first day of school," Valeria said. "That's why it's important to keep it broadly accessible."

21:20 - The harder conversation is the culture shift toward a design that includes everybody.

22:40 - Microsoft's Hackathon has produced some game-changing innovation in the accessibility field. "We get to work on whatever we want. ... You get to pull from people from all over the world to work on whatever matters to you," Solomon said.

25:31 - Solomon tells the story of Microsoft's packaging for its accessible Xbox adaptive controller. "I said, 'If I can't open this package with my left hand (which has no fingers)... then we have failed.'" 



Thursday, July 2, 2020

UATP, area agencies on aging and independent living centers team up to fight isolation

an older man uses an iPad
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

In the wake of the pandemic, Area Agencies on Aging and two Centers for Independent Living in Utah will renew their focus on technology that fights isolation. They are bringing in more devices and collaborating with the Utah Assistive Technology Program to loan them to those who need it. 


It’s part of a federal program to ease isolation and address the need for food and transportation that arose due to COVID-19. The pandemic closed many senior centers and required staff members to offer services from home. Not surprisingly, one of the most-felt needs is for technology to help seniors and people with disabilities to connect virtually with friends, family, and medical providers. The CARES act has made funds available to the Utah Aging & Disability Resource Center (ADRC) to support Area Agencies on Aging, senior centers, two Centers for Independent Living and UATP to help alleviate all those needs.


UATP’s loan bank—and the loan banks of Roads to Independence and Ability 1st independent living centers—will include iPads, stocked with communications apps that can help seniors connect. 


“As people are spending more time at home and less time with caregivers or other people, we are wanting them to turn to us to live that more independent life,” said Logan UATP coordinator Dan O’Crowley. 


Whether he’s working with an individual, a family or a professional looking to help a senior borrow a device, his advice is the same: Find out what the user’s end goal is. If they are looking to borrow an iPad, how do they need to communicate? Would they benefit from subtitles? UATP has compiled lists of communication apps for at-home use as well as resources for learning and working at home.


Once the needs are identified, O’Crowley said he makes sure the iPad has the needed technology while also ensuring it is as simple to use as possible.

Independence-giving devices include a lot more than iPads, and UATP is ready to connect people with the high- or low-tech items they need, including aids to daily living and mobility devices. Contact Dan O’Crowley in Logan and Cameron Cressall in the Uintah Basin. Due to the pandemic they will provide services by appointment only. Some demonstrations can be offered virtually.


UATP’s Salt Lake City facility is not open to new clients at this time.


In addition, independent living centers and UATP are all finding ways to continue helping their clients while safeguarding their health. Schedules and practices have changed due to the pandemic, so it is important to call before you come. (You can find your local independent living center on the Utah State Independent Living Council website.) 


Utah’s senior centers will also help address food and transportation needs. 


For more information on how the pandemic affects UATP’s services, read this post.