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).