Tuesday, March 26, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's a quick look at our history:

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

Friday, March 15, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solution 1: motion detectors.

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

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

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

Solution 2: magnetic and pressure alarms

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

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

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

Solution 3: Smart door and window sensors

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

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

Solution 4: Smart home technology

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

Friday, March 8, 2019

Intermountain West will soon have another AT lab

Future Idaho facility drew inspiration from UATP

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

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

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

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

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

The Idaho lab is expected to open in Fall 2019.

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