Friday, December 8, 2017

Logan AT Lab adds real warmth to holiday season

An electric blanket that plugs into a wheelchair makes it easier for a woman to go to winter events at night

Julie Norman at the American Festival Chorus and Orchestra Christmas Concert

Julie Norman used to avoid going outside at night in the winter. Even when she was bundled in a blanket, it was just too cold in her wheelchair. It took too long for a quilt to store her body heat and reflect it back to her, so just getting out to the car was a freezing experience.

"When my driving arm gets cold, I can't drive," she said, referring to the arm she uses to operate her wheelchair's joystick.

She called Logan AT Lab Coordinator Clay Christensen and asked if there would be any way to install an electric blanket on her chair. It would provide heat a lot faster than a quilt.

They discussed the possibilities. Her wheelchair did have a power outlet, similar to the cigarette lighter outlet found in cars. But the wheelchair's power source was 24 volts instead of the 12 volts available in an automobile. And while it was possible to find a 12-volt electric blanket, it wouldn't work with the wheelchair's outlet--not without overheating and possibly burning up wires.

Christensen told her to come to the lab, and he brought in volunteers Mike Stokes and Todd McGregor. Norman came with her parents, bringing an electric blanket she'd found online. It was intended for use in a car.

AT lab staff work on Julie's chair to adapt its power outlet and add a side mirror.

Together Christensen and the volunteers worked to adapt Norman's chair so that it would work safely with a 12-volt electric blanket. They shortened up the power cord so it wouldn't be a safety hazard. And while she was there, they added a mirror to her wheelchair so Norman could view things on her left side--something she had trouble doing before without physically turning her chair.

The blanket would be a good change, she said. "This will generate heat, instead of just trapping my own." Now she could go outside for short trips in her wheelchair. She was especially looking forward to the American Festival Chorus and Orchestra's Christmas Concert on the USU campus.

That happened Thursday, and it was a glorious event, complete with the chorus and orchestra, the Westminster Bell Choir, and Utah's own singing trio, Gentri.

It was a moment no music lover would want to miss--and with a little more warmth and some help from her friends in the AT Lab, she didn't have to.

Utah's own singing trio, Gentri, performs with the American Festival Chorus and Orchestra.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Roosevelt AT Lab coordinator goes the extra mile for local family

Photo of Roy and Shawna Mounteer
Roy and Shawna Mounteer
Ray Mounteer was an active hunter, fisher and hiker. Then, a series of surgeries changed everything. He lost the use of his legs and began crawling to get where he needed to go--inside the house and out to the car.

"I was pretty distraught over the whole thing," he said. "It takes a lot out of you when you're as active as I was. ... I didn't know where to go or who to talk to. It hit so fast."

His wife, Shawna, spoke to someone at the hospital and learned of the Assistive Technology Lab on the Roosevelt campus at Utah State University. The lab is part of the Utah Assistive Technology Program at the Center for Persons with Disabilities.

"Next thing I know, here's this man knocking on my door with this chair."

Cameron Cressall, the Roosevelt AT Lab coordinator, responded to the call with assistive technology, and more. "He has gone above and beyond the call of duty to make things bearable at the house for me," Ray said.

Cressall came two or three times, helping them with a motorized wheelchair, a handrail for the shower and a manual wheelchair that they could put in the car and take to the store. It was important to Ray to have a wheelchair that could go into the car, since he and his wife do everything together.

"He made it so easy for me to adapt to this condition, and now that I'm getting better and my legs are working again, he gave me words of wisdom and moral support," Ray said.

"They seem much happier. It's been wonderful seeing this transformation in their lives," said Cressall.

Clay Christensen, Logan's AT Lab coordinator, said both AT labs can make life easier for people who experience a temporary need for assistive technology. While he was not involved in the Mounteers' case, he has seen many people whose lives were made easier with loaned equipment, like a wheelchair or hand rail. "A lot of times, if somebody is temporarily rendered without the use of their legs, insurance will not provide them with a chair, whether it is a manual wheelchair or an electric one," he said. "They will be denied but they will still need mobility. ... There are a great many people out there who are needlessly going without or suffering, that if they were aware of our services could be provided with the equipment that they need."

The AT Labs and independent living centers around Utah help in those situations. Both Utah AT Labs have equipment loan banks. "If people come to us, we can pull our resources together."

"It definitely made a difference in our lives," said Shawna. "Ray was able to be part of our family, to get out. ... He became a completely different person."

If you need equipment, or if you have used equipment you would like to donate, call UATP at 800.524.5152.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Steve and the new portable lift

Photo of Steve, working on the floor.
Steve Nelson

Meet Steve Nelson, one of our dedicated volunteers. He uses a wheelchair, but unfortunately it was hard for him to find the right angle to remain in his chair while he worked in the Logan Assistive Technology Lab. Sometimes, he'd sit on the floor.

Photo of Steve in front of a portable lift

Recently, the AT Lab received a donated portable lift for scooters. It allows people in the AT Lab to raise the scooter off the floor and work on it at whatever height is comfortable to them. This is great news to everyone in the Logan AT Lab who doesn't want to get a sore back from bending over equipment while they work on it.

Steve is removing batteries from a scooter that was recently donated to the AT Lab.

It's especially great news for Steve. "The floor got cold," he said.

Do you have equipment that could make life easier for someone with a disability? Contact AT Lab Coordinator Clay Christensen!

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

Friday, November 17, 2017

AT Lab enriches intern's experience while he helps others

Heber Morse shows off a slanted desk he helped design.
Heber Morse is new to the Assistive Technology Lab in Logan. Dan O’Crowley, a student employee who works a lot with Heber, is new to working with interns. This fall, they have learned a lot from each other.

Morse came to the Utah Assistive Technology Program through Aggies Elevated, a residential higher education program for students with intellectual disabilities at Utah State University. He started at the AT Lab after a two-month stint at UATP’s CReATE program in Salt Lake City, where he worked on wheelchairs. While he still works on mobility equipment in his current position, the move to the AT Lab exposed him to a much wider variety of assistive technology.

“At first I was kind of confused,” he said. “But as I slowly came to know what various machines do, I felt comfortable.”

“I feel like Heber is really good at not just thinking of [a problem] in one way,” O’Crowley said.
“He doesn’t limit himself in the way that you can solve a problem.”

In an interview at the lab, Morse showed off an item he made for O’Crowley’s wife, who teaches special education and needs a slanted lap desk. She also wants it to store flat.

“I came up with the idea of putting hinges on it so it would close easier,” he said. They also added a removable piece of wood to keep the sides from collapsing while in use, and Velcro to attach the piece to the bottom of the desk so that it could be easily stored. “It worked really nicely.”

O’Crowley remembers a project they took on for a woman who needed to carry a walker on her scooter. “We had to scratch our heads and engineer something, and Heber was very involved in that process. … I didn’t tell him what I thought was the best way, and I’m glad I didn’t.”

They ended up with a simple design of PVC pipe and square tubing to give the walker a place to ride on the scooter. It was secured on top with a hook. The design was simple enough that it could be used by the client, who needed a solution that did not take a lot of hand strength. The whole time, O’Crowley was there to provide support, but Morse did the project.

O’Crowley has learned that Morse’s approach to a problem may be different from his own. Sometimes it takes Morse longer to arrive at a solution, and O’Crowley has learned to let him work through things at his own pace. O’Crowley has enjoyed the collaboration. “Being able to work with someone and bounce your ideas back and forth, you make it a lot farther and it turns out a lot better… You’ve got to get outside of your own brain.”

“It’s so much fun,” Heber said. “Dan actually brings a lot of great ideas, and he’s the most wonderful, hardworking person I’ve met.”

Photo of Heber working on a project.

The internship’s benefits go so far beyond learning to work with tools. Aggies Elevated Career Success Coordinator Sue Reeves said the program’s students learn job-related skills: being on time, finding productive things to do, following directions and accepting criticism. In addition, they may learn specialized skills they may need in their chosen career. The internships give them work experience to refer to as they go into the “real world” after graduation.

“As a program, our employment rate at 90 days past graduation is 78 percent,” Reeves said. “The employment rate in general for people with disabilities is only about 19 percent. Our internships, and the skills our students learn from them, are a huge part of that success.”

The Logan AT Lab has contributed to that success, thanks in part to coordinator Clay Christensen’s willingness to make it a meaningful experience for Aggies Elevated students.

Morse has been good for the AT Lab, too. O’Crowley said he has the friendly, helpful nature that is essential.

But more than that, Reeves and O’Crowley agreed they’ve seen Morse’s confidence and problem-solving savvy grow. “There’s something about building something or fixing something and making it work,” O’Crowley said. “For me it’s been really neat to see the amount of progress he’s made in two and a half months. There’s a lot more confidence.”

Morse said he loves to see the smiles on the faces of people he has helped to find solutions. “What really brightens up my day is to fix that problem. The gratitude they show is wonderful.”

Friday, November 3, 2017

UATP director speaks out on driverless technology

Night photo of headlights painting lines on a road

UATP Director Sachin Pavithran advocates for fully-accessible, autonomous vehicles as he has met with representatives from government and the automobile industry. Now, he urges people with disabilities to join the conversation.

"When the indicators are that fully autonomous vehicles are expected on our roads within the next five years, it makes me wonder why we haven't seen a prototype of an accessible autonomous vehicle yet," he said. "Conversations continue about making accessibility a priority when designing these vehicles. Promises are being made by the auto industry that autonomous vehicles will change the lives of all for the better, including people with disabilities. 
"But I hope people with disabilities are not left behind yet again."

You can read the full story on the Center for Persons with Disabilities website.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Save the date: basic wheelchair maintenance & repair webinar

photo of Tom Boman
Tom Boman
When you spend your whole workday refurbishing wheelchairs, scooters and other mobility equipment, you know a thing or two about their repair and maintenance. In October, CReATE coordinator Tom Boman will share his knowledge in a free webinar, covering topics like battery maintenance, joystick repair and keeping those wheels turning properly.

The event takes place October 23 at 10:30 am. It will be posted later on our YouTube channel.

If you have a question for Tom, or if you'd like to sign up, email utahatp[at] We'll add you to our list!

Photo of many wheelchairs in CReATE warehouse
The CReATE warehouse is full of examples of Tom's repair and refurbishment skills.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Coming to a city near you: DIY AT

Professionals and students work together
to build a custom-made seat for a young
child with disabilities.

Training program brings low-tech assistive technology techniques to communities in rural Utah

Earlier this year, Logan AT Lab Coordinator Clay Christensen participated in an event that inspired us all. He teamed up with CPD occupational therapist Amy Henningsen to help people from different backgrounds make assistive technology--and their creations addressed specific needs of people from the community.

Building on that idea, the Utah Assistive Technology Program at Utah State University will begin teaching low-tech assistive technology methods to students, teachers, parents, and professionals in rural Utah, thanks to a grant funded by the Center for Persons with Disabilities's Interagency Outreach and Training Initiative. These workshops will address an identified need of a person in the community, and local students and professionals will have the chance to participate in a hands-on exercise to design and build a low-tech device.

Some examples of devices that could be built:

  • A custom-made chair that helps a child with low muscle tone sit upright and in the correct position;
  • An iPad holder that allows a person with limited motor skills to access an iPad independently;
  • A device that helps a person with limited mobility get in and out of bed safely.

Want us to come to your town? Contact Alma Burgess. Let's build something!

Monday, August 14, 2017

CReATE celebrates brighter days

The CReATE warehouse brightened up this summer, thanks to a grant from the Gibney Family Foundation to improve its lighting system.

photo of a dingy shop
photo of a brighter shop
This well-lit shop will help CReATE employees and volunteers in their mission to bring affordable mobility equipment to Utahns who need it. And if they drop a tool along the way, they may be finding it faster!

Thanks, Gibney Family Foundation! Things are looking brighter already.

For a look at the work CReATE does--and how they do it--watch this video.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Logan, Uintah Basin AT labs have both beefed up their demonstration libraries

From the CPD blog.

Clay Christensen displays modular hose and an electronic, voice-activated personal assistant. Both are examples of high-
and low-tech AT available in the Utah Assistive Technology Program's demonstration libraries. 
People at the CPD's AT Labs hear it all the time: disability can be expensive.

They want to help. The Utah Assitive Technology Program's AT labs, which are part of  the Center for Persons with Disabilities, offer a demonstration library, stocked with items that people can try before they buy. This saves families the expense of buying item after item and discovering it doesn't quite fit the need.

The demonstration libraries in Logan and the Uintah Basin now have some now, hot technology, including Liftware utensils for people with tremors or contractured hands; voice-activated, electronic personal assistants (Chrome and Alexa), iPads loaded with apps for all kinds of disabilities, and much more.

Here's a more complete look at AT available for Utahns to try at both AT Labs:

Demonstration library inventory

Most items can be “checked out,” and all can be demonstrated at the AT Labs in Logan and Roosevelt. For more information contact Clay Christensen (Logan) or Cameron Cressall (Roosevelt).


Augmentative and alternative communication software for both Apple and personal computers, including Boardmaker
iPads loaded with AT apps (Augmentative and alternative communication, reading and comprehension aids, specialized apps for people with vision, hearing or motor loss)
Liftware eating utensils
Mobility devices
Programs and assistive devices for people who have difficulties using a mouse or keyboard, including JAWS and  Dragon
Smart pens
Vehicle adaptions
Voice-activated electronic assistants (Alexa and Chrome)



Adapted eating utensils & a feeding kit; includes custom-made, adapted silverware
Daily living aids
Mobility devices
Modular hose (used for mounting devices, Logan lab only)
Custom-made AT (can also be made on request, usually for the cost of materials)

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Another bike, another happy, active summer

photo of Georgia on the bike
Georgia tries out her new bike

Georgia Sumsion is an active 13 year old who enjoys bike riding, but her short arms made steering a challenge. Her dad modified some bikes for her, adding thumb shifters, for example. Even so she had some hair-raising, balance-challenging moments.

"We've had a lot of near misses because we live on some hills," said her dad, Aaron.

They came to the Logan Assistive Technology Lab within the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University, hoping for a more comprehensive solution. They found it with the help of volunteers who work at the lab. Todd McGregor put in a thumb shifter, adjusted the pedals for a better fit, customized the handlebars and added a spring that stabilized the steering so it didn't go wonky if Georgia lifted one hand from the bars.

Georgia took it out for its first spin, looped around the parking lot, and laughed a lot.

"I love it," she said. "It's absolutely perfect."

Family bike rides are in the future, Aaron said.

From left to right: volunteers Mike Stokes and Todd McGregor, Georgia Sumsion, and AT Lab Coordinator Clay Christensen.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Meet Ed Patillo, CReATE volunteer

photo of Ed Patillo

Ed Patillo came to CReATE for a volunteer opportunity that allowed him to tinker with mechanical things. He stayed for the jazz.

Well, actually, Patillo said CReATE Coordinator Tom Boman had something to do with it. "Tom's just got the kind of personality that just draws you in," he said. But they agree that a shared love of jazz music makes the hours they work together more enjoyable. They tweak, fix and clean while saxophones and funk guitars play in the background.

Patillo retired from Unisys after 34 years before coming to CReATE. He was a computer repairman who was ready to stop working on computers--but when he saw a volunteer opportunity that required mechanical skills, his interest was piqued.

"As a homeowner you get into these things," he said. "If you're not making millions of dollars a year, you find yourself fixing things." Now, he fixes wheelchairs and other mobility equipment on a regular basis at the CReATE shop in Salt Lake City. Boman said Patillo is the "backbone of the volunteers," training other volunteer workers when Tom is busy.

"It's a nice working environment," Patillo said. "It only takes a couple of months before you realize, this is kind of neat."

Thanks for helping us out, Ed!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Family prepares for a summer of bike rides, thanks to Logan AT Lab

photo of Parker and Chris with the bike
Parker and Chris try the bike out for the first time.

The Layton family likes to bike together. But when Parker, 8, outgrew the bike trailer they were using to tow him, they needed another option; preferably one that would allow Parker to sit in front of the person pedaling for him. (Parker has Down syndrome.)

The Laytons hoped he could ride where they could see him during their outdoor ventures.

They looked online, and found a solution that would work... for $5,000.

So they began networking with other families of Down Syndrome children, in person and on Facebook, "The first hit we got said, 'We're following this because we have the same problem,'" said Christopher Layton, Parker's dad. They found a used bike in Texas, but before they could make arrangements to bring it to their home in Utah, it was gone.

"I thought about a GoFundMe page," Christopher said. When a friend suggested he should contact the Utah Assistive Technology Program's Assistive Technology Lab within UATP at the Center for Persons with Disabilities, he gave it a try.

Within days he was talking to Mike Stokes, a volunteer with the AT Lab. Mike brought in Todd McGregor, another volunteer, and together they began creating something new and wonderful, using parts from five old bikes...

photo of a stripped down bike frame

... a high-end jogging stroller and a custom-made box...

photo of a bike frame with the beginnings of a box in front

... plus a sawed-off chair.

Photo of Atkinson by the chair
Shawn Atkinson with his donated creation.

Shawn Atkinson of Atkinson Furniture & Upholstery covered the chair in Aggie blue and added the U State logo. Jim Kofed at the Logan Deseret Industries donated bikes and other materials.

The two volunteers took it out for a test spin, to make sure it felt strong enough to support an eight-year-old boy.

photo of Mike and Todd, testing the equipment. Mike is riding in the box.

Finally, they finished the project...

photo of carrier portion of bike

...and invited the family over to give it a try. Parker was nervous about the harness, but once he wore the lap belt and experienced a ride, he was smiling wide.

"The biggest reward in volunteering at the AT Lab is seeing the expressions of happiness, and knowing that the person will live a better life when we complete a project," said Stokes.

Photo of Parker, smiling, as he rides with his dad in the new bike.
Parker's first ride, in a slow, controlled environment. He is wearing a lap belt in this photo, and will wear safety gear
as he becomes more accustomed to the new equipment.
"It's been a godsend to us," Chris said. "Everything just fell together, one piece after another."

Monday, May 15, 2017

Construction business grows, thanks to UATF

Photo of a backhoe, digging pavement
York Martinez received a loan from the Utah Assistive Technology Foundation to help land his first big construction contract. Four years later, his business is growing and employing others.

York Martinez had experience, a construction business plan and a large contract waiting—but he needed more equipment. He was a veteran with a disability, and he wasn’t having much luck getting a loan from a traditional lender.

He turned to the Utah Microenterprise Loan Fund and the Utah Assistive Technology Foundation, which work together to provide low-interest loans to entrepreneurs with disabilities. Martinez got the loan, bought the equipment, and landed his first long-term contract. “It made it very easy for me, especially when I was trying to start a business,” he said.

Small business loans from UMLF and UATF allow small business owners to apply for a loan and pay the prime interest rate, minus .25 percent. Loans run from $500 to $25,000, and there is no income limit to apply.

Today, more than four years after Martinez came to us, CastraCon LLC is still doing business, working with partners, employing three people full-time, and providing work to many others as construction projects become available. The business is solid and growing, Martinez said. Working with business partners allows them all to keep a pool of good construction workers employed.

For more information on small business loans through the Utah Assistive Technology Foundation, call 800-524-5-152 or visit their webpage.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Know a smart marketing student? Send them to us!

The CReATE initiative seeks a summer intern who is at least a junior in marketing. If you're interested, and you have marketing and marketing research savvy, this is for you! If you go to Utah State University, apply for Job #95466 at Career Aggie. If you don't, contact JoLynne at 435.797.7412 . 

This position is available to candidates from all Utah universities. CReATE is located in Salt Lake City.

This position will last for 12 weeks.

CReATE is an initiative that puts refurbished mobility devices into the hands of Utahns who need them.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Webinar updates: iPad apps and CoughDrop

Our next webinar is tomorrow, Wednesday, April 19. Did you miss the email? It's not too late to sign up, but you must do it today. The video will also be archived on our YouTube channel.

Also, videos from our last webinar are now available. Details below.

CoughDrop webinar

Looking for info on alternative and augmentative information? Join us for a free webinar on Wednesday, April 19 at 3:30 MDT.

The Utah Assistive Technology Program is teaming up with My CoughDrop to present a webinar on cloud-based and affordable alternative and augmentative communication. This will be broadcast on Wednesday, April 19 and will be archived later on our YouTube channel.

Scot Wahlquist joins us on Wednesday, April 19 at 3:30 MDT to walk us through features of CoughDrop.

CoughDrop is an augmentative and alternative communication app that utilizes the cloud and allows teams to access it across multiple platforms and devices.

Scot will be showing several unique cloud features to build a stronger team around the communicator including:
  • Creating, editing, and sharing boards from your laptop, then synching to the device of the communicator;  
  • Goal setting features, data and reporting tools;
  • Modeling across multiple supporters' devices to build a stronger AAC experience for the entire team.
To attend, RSVP to JoLynne at utahat[at] To find the archived version, check back with our YouTube channel.

Videos from iPad apps for reading & comprehension

Our last webinar, iPad apps for reading & comprehension, provided fodder for several short videos now available on our YouTube channel. Please go there for quick demonstrations of Google Read&WriteNotability, the LiveScribe Echo SmartpenCoWriterClaro ScanPen and Prizmo.

Monday, April 3, 2017

A custom-made part keeps Logan man rolling to his job

Johne came to the Logan AT Lab last week because he needed a repair. His wheelchair takes a beating when he pulls it out of his car every day, and the part where the foot pedal attaches to the chair was close to the breaking point.

"My insurance ordered it, but that's not helping me now," he said. "I have to go to work."
So he asked AT Lab volunteer Mike Stokes for help.

Johne works as an electronics tester in Logan. He also wants to train for the 5K Run, Walk and Roll race he will be doing with his wife in Salt Lake City to benefit families and survivors of brain injury.

With the weather warming up, he wanted a chair that could survive some extra outdoor use.

Mike found some parts from a different chair and got to work cutting them to fit Johne's needs.

And before the morning was out, Johne had a working wheelchair.

Because sometimes, waiting isn't an option.

Friday, March 10, 2017

CReATE's Tom Boman: a success story that keeps on giving

Tom Boman coordinates the CReATE program in
Salt Lake City.
It’s a familiar story with a surprise twist: Man acquires a disability. Man loses job. Man gets another job. Thanks to this unexpected career change, hundreds of other Utahns get moving again.

Tom Boman has been with UATP since 2013—long enough that his “happily ever after” has some hefty numbers behind it. Since he started with the CReATE (Citizens Reutilizing Assistive Technology Equipment) program in Salt Lake City, he has helped 569 people receive mobility devices that otherwise might have ended up in the dump. Without the program’s help, many, many people would not have been able to move as independently.

His story with the Utah Assistive Technology Program began with the sudden onset of vertigo. “I still don’t have a diagnosis,” he said. “I’ve been to all the rock star specialists in Salt Lake.” With time, he figured out that his symptoms were much better when he was moving around, and that allowed him to stop using heavy medication. But his days of working at a desk were over.

Tom poses with Gideon, a wheelchair recipient.
Boman poses with Gideon, one of  many happy clients.

He started work with Deseret Industries, an employment program that teaches new skills to its associates, first within the setting of the DI thrift store and then, after a trial period, with temporary business partnerships. And that is how Boman first met Clay Christensen, the Assistive Technology Lab Coordinator at UATP. Both CReATE and UATP are part of the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University.

Christensen put Boman to work in the Logan AT Lab while Deseret Industries paid his wages as part of the internship program. Christensen noticed right away that Boman was comfortable with tools, he had an excellent work ethic and he was able to keep organized in an environment that could easily be overwhelmed with donations.

Rollin Woodward, another client
At the time, CReATE was operating as a UATP initiative in Salt Lake, but it needed a new person to staff it. Someone who was self-motivated, organized and good at tinkering with mechanical things. Christensen offered the position to Tom, who commuted between Salt Lake and Logan for a year before he became a full-time coordinator of the program--and a Salt Lake City resident.

“He went down there and he turned it around,” Christensen said. In 2014 the program was transferring about 10 devices a month. In 2016 the average was around 20.

Boman’s job has helped many, many people along the way. “I can’t sit, but I work with people who can’t walk,” he said. CReATE fills a need that often goes unnoticed in Utah. After all, if people are unable to move independently, they’re not likely to be out on the street where they can be noticed. But their joy at getting their mobility back is unmistakable.

“It’s quite common for some of the mobility devices we transfer to almost become an extension of people’s bodies,” Boman said in an earlier interview. “We refurbished a power wheelchair for a lady that enabled her to continue her work on a medical assembly production line. The power seat on her previous chair stopped working, and she spent months not being able to change her body position for her ten-hour shifts. The power wheelchair we worked on for her has power rehabilitation seating that enables her to elevate herself up to the correct height, and to vary her body position to eliminate fatigue and injury. Seeing that direct impact on people’s lives makes this work very rewarding.”

photo of Daemon
Daemon Wabel
Stacey Webel turned to CReATE when her son, Daemon, outgrew his chair and the $4000 deductible on a new one was just too far out of reach. Boman found a chair that would work, made some modifications so that it would continue to suit the needs of a growing boy. When they introduced Daemon to his new chair, it was a happy moment. He cannot speak, but he communicated all the same. “He screamed with delight,” Stacey said. “He was just bouncing around in there. He loved this chair.”

The need is real. Insurance typically pays for a wheelchair every five years, but they often break down before then. Warranties expire. Children outgrow their chairs. Sometimes, even when insurance does replace a chair, people often have to wait for weeks or months for it to arrive.

CReATE steps in to fill the these gaps, taking donated chairs, refurbishing them and providing them to people who need them, often for less money than an insurance deductible.

The program serves people regardless of age, income or insurance status. It does it on a shoestring, with the help of Boman, a part-time staff member and a group of dedicated volunteers.

Need a wheelchair, knee scooter or other mobility device? Visit the CReATE web page on the Utah Assistive Technology Program website. There, you can find a referral form. To contact CReATE directly, call 801.887.9398.

Want to help? Donations are always welcome. CReATE is working now to deliver a power wheelchair to Jacques, a young disability activist in Burkina Faso, Africa. The wheelchair is ready, but we must raise funds for the shipping. Find out more on the Yembre Go Fund Me page.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Free March 16 webinar addresses apps for reading & comprehension

At the Utah Assistive Technology Program, we are often asked: Are there applications that help students--especially those in special education--with reading and comprehension?

Kent Remund of the Utah Center for Assistive Technology will explore that question during our next webinar. Join us for a one-hour look at iPad apps and a demonstration of the Livescribe Echo Smart Pen. 

This free presentation takes place March 16 at 10 am MST. It will later be archived on the UATP YouTube channel and on this blog.

To sign up--or to get information on how to access the archived webinar: email JoLynne at this address: 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Logan AT Lab helps family find multiple solutions

photo of Teisia and Clay
Teisia and  Logan AT Lab Coordinator
Clay Christensen 
Teisia Mortensen nearly died in September, when she was found unresponsive. Her brain was without oxygen for long enough that professionals wondered if she would survive, let alone recover. It was a terrifying time for her mother, Michelle Simpson, who feared she might lose her daughter. 

But Teisia defied the odds, first by surviving and then by speaking, eating and gradually regaining some of the movement she had lost. The recovery exceeded the expectations of health care professionals, and Michelle began planning for the time Teisia would come home.

The prospect brought up a whole new list of questions--issues the Utah Assistive Technology Program is now helping her answer. For example, how could she prepare her home to receive her daughter? What wheelchair would work best for Teisia's needs? And what about mealtimes? While Teisia had tried adaptive silverware, it was still a struggle to feed herself, or take a drink of water without help.

"All the sudden your whole life changes," Michelle said. "Until you walk in those shoes you don't realize that there are people out there needing the help, or that there are places like this offering it."

While the Internet has information on assistive technology, or devices that help people with disabilities gain independence, even Google couldn't offer the advice Michelle needed. "When you only know a little, you don't know what to google."

photo of Teisia as tries out an adapted bowl and spoon.
Teisia tries out an adapted bowl and spoon.
They came to the Logan Assistive Technology Lab, where they met with coordinator Clay Christensen, volunteer Mike Stokes and home health care and wheelchair providers. They evaluated Teisia's needs, showed her a couple different types of motorized chairs and specialized cushions to go with them, and tried out some different types of adapted silverware. They and fashioned a wedge that would hold an adapted plate on her lap. Stokes attached Velcro to the bottom of the plate and sewed some to the wedge's fabric cover so that it would stay put while in use.

As for the adapted spoon, Christensen said, it started out as an ordinary piece of silverware. Then it was bent in a vise until it was the right angle for Teisia. (Adapted silverware online often runs for $15 apiece, and people who are unable to try before they buy may go through several versions before hitting on the right one.)

"This will work better than what I have right now," Teisia said.

"It's amazing, eye opening. I have so many different words I could use," Michelle said. 

Now that she knows, she wants everyone to know. Meanwhile she took home information on inexpensive assistive technology and financing through the Utah Assistive Technology Foundation.

"I had no idea there was a place like this in Logan," she said.

Friday, January 27, 2017

An AT tale

How 1 project brought together 3 USU campuses,  2 AT labs & one family

two students work at a tablesaw
USU-Eastern Students Brycee Sells and Shiyenne Yazzie start work on
a sensory board during a visit to USU-Logan.

VERNAL--Andrea Johnson learned a year ago that her son, an energetic and adorable two-and-a-half year old boy named Traxten, had autism. She started applied behavior analysis therapy for him, but wanted to do something that would also help him work through some of his sensory issues.

“He’s got to be moving,” she said. “If he loses interest in one thing, he moves on to another.”

She followed a Facebook page for families of children with disabilities, and noticed Cameron Cressall, coordinator of the AT Lab in Roosevelt, was posting there. She reached out to him to see if the Utah Assistive Technology Program at Utah State University could help.

As it turned out, it could, starting with the AT lab on the Logan campus. That lab hosted two students, Brycee Sells and Shiyenne Yazzie, from the Utah State University campus in Blanding. They arrived in Logan as part of the four-week summer Native American STEM Mentorship program. There, the Logan AT Lab put them to work building a sensory board.

The project started with a sturdy cabinet, built by the visiting students. From there it was transported to Roosevelt, where lab coordinator Cressall attached some items that would help Traxton explore—things ranging  from a little electric light to a stretchy rubber chicken. Then it went to the Johnson home in Vernal.

Traxten liked it right away, Andrea said, but she also knows that his interests are rapidly changing. (He is now three and a half years old.) The board’s design allows for that, too. “As Traxten grows, it grows with him, so we can add different things that he will be interested in two years from now,” she said.

And when Traxten grows out of it altogether, that won’t be the end of the story. “It’s durable,” Cressall said. “We can always donate it back to the program and find another child to give it to.”

The Logan and Roosevelt AT labs and the Utah Assistive Technology Program are part of the Center for Persons with Disabilities.

traxten plays with items on the sensory board
Traxten tries out his new sensory board.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

AT Lab helps schools and families save money, find solutions

photo of Cameron and student
AT Lab coordinator Cameron Cressall
introduces a cane to a student at the
Con Amore school in Myton, Utah.
ROOSEVELT, UT—People with AT needs can go online and find solutions. But sometimes those solutions either don’t work, or need some modification to be effective. Families can end up trying multiple products before finding one that suits them. And sometimes, the cost of all that trial and error is simply out of reach.

That’s where Utah’s assistive technology labs work to bridge the gap. Two of them are operating in the state of Utah, as part of the Utah Assistive Technology Program within the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University.

“Financially I can't think of anything better for families,” said Shelley Winn, a special education teacher who has worked with the AT Lab in Roosevelt to find solutions for her students. “They spend so much already on their children's needs.” Winn is a teacher at the Con Amore school in Myton, which serves students with severe, multiple disabilities and developmental delays in Duchene County.

The school has also enjoyed some savings benefits through the AT Lab. When Winn used some demonstration items to find out what would work and what would not, it was a win for the school’s budget.

Teachers at Con Amore also introduced a cane to a student who suddenly stopped walking. Using a loaned device from the AT Lab allowed them to see if the new assistive technology would work without putting the family through the expense of buying one first.

Rachel Boyce, a special educator at Roosevelt Jr. High, worked with the AT Lab to bring a balance beam and balance board to her classroom. “We have a lot of problems with coordination and gross motor skills,” she said. She talked her concerns over with Royce Porter, an occupational therapist in the area, and he linked her up with Cameron Cressall, coordinator of Roosevelt AT Lab.

photo of feet on a beam
A student uses the balance beam.
Boyce knew what she wanted, but the price was too high for her supply budget. So she worked with Cressall to have a low-cost version built out of wood for her classroom.  The resulting balance beam was low-to-the-ground for safety. It came in four pieces, so the students could change up how they were arranged and add some variety while they practiced their skills. “It’s a game for them, and it’s so fun,” she said. “They’re obsessed with it. … I expect it to last for years.”

The students also received a rocking platform from the AT Lab that helps them practice their balance skills.

But the special education students in Boyce’s room have taken AT a step further by learning how to create their own. They’ve built book easels out of PVC pipe and created wedges designed to serve as a portable desk. Boyce’s students took a lot of pride in that project—and they still use them as a portable desk and object holder.

Cressall pre-cut the cardboard used in the wedges, and he did some pre-taping, but the children assembled the rest themselves.

Rachel holds a slant board
Special education teacher Rachel Boyce shows of an AT project her special education class completed.

“It’s good for them to be able to accomplish things,” Boyce said. “The kids have never been allowed to use that kind of equipment, and it was fun to see.”

Royce Porter, the occupational therapist who connected Boyce with Cressall, said he’s happy that the Assistive Technology lab has provided people in the Uintah Basin with more options. He loves being able to refer clients to the AT lab. “It’s like a light to the Basin,” he said. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

DIY assistive technology: How to make a calm-down jar

photo of jars with suspended glitter

Calm-down jars allow children (or stressed-out adults) to focus on the mesmerizing, downward flow of sparkling glitter to stop thinking about that annoying... hmm, what was I worried about again?

There are many ways to make them, but this one uses a ratio of 80 percent water to 20 percent clear tacky glue, and glitter at your own discretion. You can also add larger sequins or other decorations, but be warned: they can be hard to see through a veil of glitter.

Another thing I discovered in my own kitchen: while some recipes call for glitter glue, the brand I used was really, really tacky. It created a permanent suspension, with the glitter at a virtual standstill. I recommend using tacky glue at first and playing with the proportions later.

Once you have the suspension you want, you can super-glue or hot-glue the lid in place.

photo of jars after glitter has settled

Here's a quick look at how it goes together.

For alternative ways to make a calm-down jar, here's a link. If you really want to go crazy with it, you can search for calm-down jars on Pinterest.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Roosevelt AT Lab finds multiple solutions for Vernal couple

In the last year, the Utah Assistive Technology Program opened an AT lab in Roosevelt. Since then we have provided services and made new friends in another part of the state. Here is the second in a series of stories from the Uintah Basin.

VERNAL—Cathy Johnson heard about the Assistive Technology Lab in Roosevelt before it even existed. When she saw a flyer announcing that one was being considered for the Uintah Basin, it felt personal.

“I’m a special educator, so I was interested for work, and for my husband,” she said.

Her husband, Jerry, had been diagnosed with multiple system atrophy (MSA), a rare neurological, degenerative condition. When the AT Lab came to the area, she contacted them looking for specialized eating utensils and communication boards. Roosevelt AT Lab Coordinator Cameron Cressall and Logan AT Lab Coordinator Clay Christensen demonstrated some options and evaluated the family’s needs.

“Those were our first two concerns at that point,” Cathy said. But in addition to the evaluation, Cressall also came with eight pages of information on MSA.

“They understood the progression and how our needs would be changing,” Cathy said. “This is huge!”

Later, lab coordinator Cameron Cressall came back with a specialized rail for the bathroom. It folds down and lifts up for storage, so it takes up less space.

It was a piece of donated equipment, said Cressall. “We’re like a hub. People want to share what they’ve had and used with others that it can help.”

It’s a good thing, because assistive technology can be expensive off the shelf. Cathy knew this from her own experience; from searching online for things that weren’t quite the right fit, or ordering a device in that didn’t quite work.

Still later, Jerry needed a new chair. Cressall brought in a demo chair so that they could try it out, then connected them with a provider who could arrange for a new one. Jerry is nonverbal now, but when asked how he liked his chair he gave a big thumbs-up.

Once, when the chair crashed into a wall, Cressall helped fix it. “Instead of the warranty work and waiting for a vendor to come, we can fix certain parts without jeopardizing the warranty,” he said.

So what would the Johnsons have done without the AT Lab? “Cried,” Cathy said, “Or just made do.”

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

UATP kept "Montana" rolling in Roosevelt

Joel "Montana" Filmore
In the last year, the Utah Assistive Technology Program opened an AT lab in the Uintah Basin. Since then we have provided services and made new friends. Here is one of their stories.

Joel “Montana” Filmore had a problem. His wheelchair had broken down during a therapy session, and his backup had no batteries. His therapist had a suggestion, though: call the AT Lab.

“I said I don’t have tons of money,” he said. His therapist’s response: No problem, call anyway.

The AT lab helps people find customized solutions that help them stay independent—usually for the cost of materials (though donations are always accepted and appreciated).

The call to the Assistive Technology Lab connected Filmore with Cameron Cressall, who coordinates the lab in Roosevelt. “He came right over and fixed me up,” Filmore said. 

Without that help, Filmore's mobility would have been severely limited—especially since he uses a chair with reclining capabilities. Fixing the one he had was preferable to using a replacement that did not recline.

It didn’t stop there, though; Cressall also built a step for Filmore to help him get into his truck, and another that helps him get onto his exercise machine.

Filmore spread the word in the neighborhood, since he knows other people who use wheelchairs. “I got my neighbors onto him,” he said. “He’s helped me a lot.”

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Help us provide wheels for Jacques

Jacques Guenaro Zongo
Over the summer, a young man contacted the Utah Assistive Technology Program through Facebook, asking if we could help him find a wheelchair.

Since then, we have learned a lot about Jacques, what he needs, why he contacted us, and how to help.

Our biggest barrier: he lives in Burkina Faso, a country in West Africa. Our next-biggest barrier: while the UATP's CReATE program had a chair that would serve his needs, it did not have funding to provide the needed extra batteries or pay for the chair's shipment it to West Africa.

But CReATE and its friends are not giving up, because the need is real. Today we are asking for your help.

"Here it is very hard to get a wheelchair because there is no one who makes them," Zongo said in an interview we conducted through Facebook.

Zongo attends the University of Ouagadougou. He is part of the organization Mouvement Panafricain Des Droits des Personnes Handicapees (Pan-African Movement for the Rights of Handicapped People). "Here I took part in many meetings for people with disabilities to know my rights and to prepare my future fighting for our rights in many countries of Africa," he said. "Every time, I share many pieces of information about people with disabilities and try to encourage those who feel hopeless to never give up, because disability is not incapability."

He heard about what we do through Ismael Traore, one of a delegation of people from many countries who visited the CReATE program in 2015. The visit was arranged through the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy. During the delegates' visit, CReATE coordinator Tom Boman tuned up Traore's wheelchair and sent some extra wheels back with him. Traore knew Jaques, and they both began working with CReATE and Natalie Moore, a former Peace Corps volunteer who worked with Traore during her two years in Burkina Faso.

In fact, Moore helped Traore apply for the Visitors Leadership Program, run through the U.S. State Department,  before she left Burkina Faso. That program helped him come to the U.S. to learn more about disability rights. His involvement led him to tour CReATE in 2015.

Moore, now back in the states in Washington D.C., heard of Jacques's need and began making some goals that launched a fundraising effort--she has named it Yembre--to transport wheelchairs to Jaques and others like him. "The first thing that Yembre can do is get Jacques a wheelchair," she said. From there she would like to help the university at Ouagadougou to get an accessible bus, which could then be used as an example to the Burkina government for accessible public transportation.

She knows of no accessible buses in Burkina Faso. People with disabilities in face many barriers to independence, she said.

Jaques agrees. For now he relies on classmates for help, but he hopes for more independence. "After my graduation I want to work in an organization that helps people who are suffering," he said.

For a closer look at Ismael Traore and life for people with disabilities in Burkina Faso, watch this documentary (it has English subtitles).