Friday, March 21, 2014

She got one - why didn't I? Understanding Vocational Rehabiliation logic when it comes to funding AT

REVISED: 3/21/14

By Erin Hough
Disability Law Center of Utah

Does the assistive technology you're
asking for relate to an employment goal?
The mission of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) is to assist and empower eligible individuals with disabilities to gain and maintain employment. If you are found eligible for services you will be assigned a counselor whom you will work with to determine what services are necessary for you to get a job and keep it. One of these services may be an assistive technology (AT) device or service.

You and your counselor will work together to determine if you need the device to succeed at work. Not at daily living, not at recreation, at work. Come prepared to discuss this need with your counselor. 

Sometimes VR will cover a device in one case and not in another. This may seem inconsistent and unfair, but what they're really doing is looking at whether the device is necessary in that individual situation, to assist that individual with “preparing, securing, retaining, or regaining an employment outcome.”  

Everyone’s going to need something different to reach their employment goal. Here are some examples:

Covered (most likely): 

  • An IntelliPen to help someone with a learning disability to keep track of what was said in meetings or trainings at work.
  • Adaptive software for someone to access specific digital material at work.
  • A netbook and screen reader for someone who is blind to be able to do work related tasks such as taking notes and accessing emails and calendars.
  • An iPad for someone with an intellectual or developmental disability to be able to communicate work preferences and develop work-related skills.

Not Covered (most likely):

  • An IntelliPen for convenience, because you're tired of carrying your laptop around.
  • Adaptive software for someone who does not yet have a job and does not need it for education or job searching.
  • A netbook and screen reader for someone who is blind to access books or newspapers for leisurely reading on the go.
  • An iPad for someone with an intellectual or developmental disability to be able to communicate with caretakers at home.

When seeking funding for assistive technology devices, VR is mandated to search for comparable benefits. This means that before funding an AT device or service, VR will work with other agencies, programs, and providers to meet in whole or in part the cost of the AT service. If no comparable benefits are readily available, VR may fund the service until a comparable benefit becomes available.  

Any AT device or service provided by VR is intended to help you get and keep a job. Here are some examples where VR may or may not see a clear connection to an employment goal. 

May or May Not be Covered:

  • Van modifications to be able to get to work… and everywhere else.
  • A shower seat so you can have good hygiene at work… and everywhere else.
  • Power standing wheelchair
  • Hearing aids so you can hear what’s going on at work… and everywhere else.
  • Dedicated communication device so you can communicate at work… and everywhere else.
  • A ramp installed at home so you can get to work… and everywhere else.

We hope this helps! These cases can be difficult, so feel free to call the Disability Law Center with questions 1-800-662-9080.

Thank you!

Yesterday the Utah Assistive Technology Foundation raised $330 during Love Utah Give Utah because of your generosity! 

Thank you for helping us provide small grants to low-income Utahns with disabilities to get assistive technology.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Share the Love with UATF

As you may know, independence and a good quality of life is often possible for people with disabilities with the use of assistive technology (AT).

AT is any device or modification that helps a person with a disability accomplish everyday tasks, go to school and be successful in the workplace. Braille equipment, hearing devices, wheelchairs, communication devices, and home modifications are just a few.

Assistive technology can be expensive, and isn't always covered by insurance and other means.

This is where the Utah Assistive Technology Foundation steps in to help with small grants up to $400 for people who are low-income, and low-interest loans up to $50,000 so AT can be purchased. The process is quick so individuals aren't waiting on getting a much-needed device. 

UATF logo

In 2013, UATF provided 114 loans, and 36 small grants to Utahns with disabilities to help them integrate into their community and educational settings.

UATF is participating in Love Utah Give Utah on March 20th - Utah's annual day of giving facilitated by the Community Foundation of Utah. We are asking for your help to grow the Foundation funds by contributing during this day of giving. 

It's easy to donate - simply visit our Love Utah Give Utah webpage on Razoo.

Use the secure donation widget and learn more about what we do. And thank you in advance for your contribution. It will help a senior increase their mobility using a walker or refurbished scooter, a person who uses a wheelchair obtain a ramp to get out of their house, an employee with limited use of their legs obtain hand controls to drive to work, a child with autism communicate using an iPad, and much more. Thank you for helping make independence possible for Utahns with disabilities!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Switch adapting a toy

A common request at the Utah Assistive Technology Lab is to switch adapt a toy for a child with a physical disability. 

Toys that are purchased are often not accessible for these children, so using a switch that can be accessed by that child allows them to play independently as well as use the toy for education or therapy if that is the goal. 

Switch adapting a toy is generally not difficult, it just takes some hacking. Tools to make the adaptation can be purchased from many places, including this kit from DIYAbility. Clay Christensen, AT Lab coordinator, showed students some of the toys he has adapted and how he did it in this video:

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

CPD Blog: Zen and the art of Wheelchair Maintenance

This story originally appeared on the CPD Blog.

Feb 27, 2014
By Sue Reeves

Gordon Richins is the CPD’s Consumer Advocate. Libby Higham is a senior dietetics major who is in her second semester in the SPED 6500 Interdisciplinary Disability Awareness and Service Learning (IDASL) class.

Gordon’s story

Libby Higham works on Gordon Richins' power
wheelchair at the CPD's Assistive Technology lab.
Libby Higham works on Gordon Richins' power wheelchair at the CPD's Assistive Technology lab.

“As an experienced wheelchair user for the last 26 years, I have a strong understanding of how necessary general maintenance and repair is for an expensive power wheelchair. Preventive maintenance and general repairs lessen the chance of a chair failure when an individual is out in the community. I have been very fortunate to not have been stranded from a serious wheelchair malfunction. I owe this good fortune to the Assistive Technology Lab at the Center for Persons with Disabilities. AT Lab technicians and IDASL students have, over time, given my power chair a serious tune-up through general maintenance. This maintenance could be replacing tires, replacing batteries, or repairing other malfunctions, such as a bearing on a wheel that has worn out. The AT Lab also keeps my chair clean and lubricated periodically throughout the year, which is a great advantage, especially in our Cache Valley snowy winters. I am also fortunate enough to be able to afford the cost of new batteries, new tires etc. for my power chair.

“Within the community, I have many friends who are not in that position and have greatly benefited from the services and assistance they receive from the AT Lab. One individual who uses a power chair never left his home for six months because his chair needed new batteries. When I met him at the Cache Valley Transit District transit center in Logan, he told me the difficulty of having his chair repaired. The vendor that provided the chair was in Salt Lake City and he could not get his chair there for the repairs. When I explained and described the AT Lab to him he was more than thrilled to hear there was an organization that provides service here in Cache Valley.

“My power wheelchair is no different than your car or other mode of transportation. My chair liberates me and opens up endless possibilities of where I can go and what I can do. My wife also loves the fact that I can get out of the house and be a productive member of society and she doesn't have to worry about me all day. As a C-4 quadriplegic, I am unable to drive a vehicle safely, so I greatly rely on my power chair. I also rely on drivers to drive my personal van, the USU motor pool accessible van and public transportation, which are accessible, cost-effective and convenient.”

Libby’s story

“Over the past year, I have enjoyed learning about disability advocacy through service learning hours as a student in the IDASL program. Thus far, my most memorable service learning experience was working on Gordon’s chair at the AT lab with Clay (Christensen) and Cameron (Cressall). Initially, I felt sheepish about working on Gordon’s chair, having very little experience with tools or mechanics. However, my concerns faded quickly and I soon found myself completely covered in dirt, grease, and blue glue, laughing alongside Gordon, Cameron, and Clay.

“Over the course of two semesters, I worked on Gordon’s chair for a total of 10 hours, during which I learned about wheelchair design and technology, and how to make technology more functional for the individual using it. I changed the tires and the batteries on Gordon’s chair, and also made small repairs to improve its safety. For example, I used some Velcro and zip ties to secure the seat cushion, and to conceal and tie down the small wires and tubes on the side of his wheelchair. I also cleaned the small tires on the chair, and fixed squeakiness caused by corrosion of the moving pieces connecting the wheel to the wheelchair.

“Changing the tires and installing new batteries was a surprisingly labor-intensive process and a true test of Gordon’s patience and trust in me. Through this experience, I grew to share in Cameron’s, Clay’s, and Gordon’s enthusiasm for a wheelchair’s capacity to be much more than a means of mobility. I truly understand now that a large portion of Gordon’s quality of life depends on the comfort and functionality of his wheelchair. This experience was very unique, as it provided me the opportunity to develop an enthusiasm for advocating for people with disabilities through making their lives simpler through assistive technology.”


Carlotta Foitzick paints puzzles for the Up to 3 program at the AT Lab.
Carlotta Foitzick paints puzzles for  the Up to 3 program at the AT lab.
Carlotta Foitzick paints puzzles for
the Up to 3 program at the AT lab.

IDASL was formed in the fall of 2000 and was designed to provide upper division undergraduate and graduate students with a better understanding of the systems that provide service to people with disabilities, and the barriers to providing service.

Class size is limited to around 15 students, and always includes at least one consumer with a disability and one family member of a consumer. Students may be eligible for a small stipend in addition to course credit.

The seminar-style class offers two components: didactic and service learning. Professionals or people with disabilities come and present information on a wide variety of issues related to disability.

One of the first lessons involves using 'people first' language, in which the person is emphasized, not their disability. Each class includes a 'media moment,' in which students share their observations of how people with disabilities are portrayed in the media. Students are encouraged to make changes to an article and contact the writer to promote awareness.

In addition to the classroom work, students complete service learning projects at the Assistive Technology lab, Project PEER (Postsecondary Education, Employment and Research), Up to 3 and the Developmental Skills Lab (DSL) on campus, and at OPTIONS for Independence and Common Ground in Logan.

Instructors are Richins, Alma Burgess, Jeanie Peck and Becky Keeley. The small class size and interdisciplinary nature make for good discussion, Burgess said. Richins and Keeley, who both use wheelchairs, bring a valuable perspective to the class, as do family members of people with disabilities.

Applications are now being accepted for the 2014-2015 IDASL cohort. Contact Burgess at 797-0253 or visit for more information.