In Memorium: Gordon Richins

February 14, 2018 by JoLynne Lyon



Gordon Richins

Gordon Richins, our dear colleague, advocate and friend, passed away on February 11. He leaves a hole at the CPD, and in many other places where his influence was felt. He served on multiple boards and committees at the local, state and national level, always lending his voice to the support people with disabilities.

Richins was a farmer until one day in 1987, when a heavy bale of hay hit him in the back of the neck. He was instantly paralyzed and spent months in rehabilitation before he was able to sit in a wheelchair.

“The Social Security Administration sent a vocational rehabilitation counselor to meet with me, and this began my process of rehabilitation and earning a college degree,” he wrote in a post for this blog. “All through college I never really thought I would get a job with my disability.”

Still, Richins had a desire to give back to the community that supported him and his family following his accident, and when a chance came to work for OPTIONS for Independence as an outreach specialist and VISTA volunteer, he took it. “It was a time of personal growth as my outlook on life changed dramatically,” he would later write.

In the beginning he was pretty opinionated, said Cheryl Atwood, the OPTIONS executive director. Over time she witnessed his transformation into a strong disability advocate. “He learned to speak up for himself, which is wonderful, but he grew into speaking for people with disabilities on a higher level.”

In 1996, he came to the Center for Persons with Disabilities as its consumer liaison. “I will remember Gordon as a rare individual whose experiences in life touched and taught many others,” said Sarah Rule, a former CPD director. “He said that after his accident and a long period of coming to terms with the resulting disability, he chose to live actively, and set out to do just that. On his way, he guided others to find ways to do the same.”

Gordon in a slanted hot air balloon basket, surrounded by other people.

Gordon after a hot air ballon ride, during Common Ground’s 20th Anniversary celebration.

He served on the boards of many organizations, and he often took his advocacy to the public at large. He granted numerous interviews to local media on disability issues, from snow removal to housing to transportation to employment of people with disabilities.

His leadership continued on the national level. He served two terms as co-chair of the Council on Community Advocacy at the Association of University Centers on Disabilities, stepping into the role at a time when strong leadership was needed. “His strength was knowing the issues and staying on point. His style served him very well,” said Mark A. Smith, a past co-chair of the COCA. “This is a sad and substantial loss to the community of disability advocates nationally. Gordon personally embodied the principles of servant leadership, and we as a community stand on his shoulders, along with so many others.”

Gordon also served the disability community in a personal way. Kim Datwyler, the executive director of Neighborhood Housing Solutions, remembers when Gordon showed up at a hearing on a controversial housing development—one that would impact people with disabilities. He brought several other wheelchair users in with him. He was aware of the opposition, Datwyler said, but it didn’t stop him. “Gordon took it in stride. He didn’t become bitter, he just said, ‘They need to be educated.’”

Gordon was an executive member of the Consumer Advisory Council at the CPD—a body that advises and guides the center while keeping it connected to the statewide disability community. “He was so good at including everyone,” said Connie Pehrson, a former board member. “He truly was good friends with everyone.”

“The disability world will not be the same,” said Atwood. “I can’t imagine those meetings without him.”

Over the years, Gordon served at the national level on the COCA (he was co-chair from 2004-2010); the Association of Programs for Rural Independent Living; and the National Council on Independent Living. At the statewide level he was a member of the Utah Rural Specialized Transportation Association Board, the Center for Persons with Disabilities’ Consumer Advisory Council (executive member); and Idaho’s Center on Disabilities and Human Development’s Consumer Advisory Council. Locally he served on the OPTIONS for Independence and Neighborhood Housing Solutions boards, among others.

Gordon in his electric wheelchair


In lieu of flowers or other gifts, the family is requesting support for the significant medical expenses accrued in recent months. Donations may be made through any Zions Bank branch to an account in memory of Gordon Richins OR donations may  be sent to:
The Family of Gordon Richins
c/o Sharon Weston, CPD at Utah State
6800 Old Main Hill
Logan, UT 84322


Statewide training teaches low-tech assistive technology techniques

January 31, 2018 by JoLynne Lyon

Photo of people assembling a cardboard chair

Participants in St. George, Utah learn about making low-tech assistive technology for children.

Representatives from the Center for Persons with Disabilities went to St. George earlier this month to spread the word about low-tech assistive technology, and help train professionals on how to make their own.

Assistive technology is any device or system that allows people with disabilities to be more independent. Low-tech assistive technology is a subject that deserves more respect, said Clay Christensen, one of the presenters at the event.

In today’s world, when so many high-tech solutions are available for people with disabilities, the low-tech ones get overlooked, even though they can be inexpensive, super-customized and easy to use. For example, Justin Bernard’s young son had low muscle tone, so the boy was unable to sit on the floor. The family used a customized stroller for their son, but while it helped with positioning it was hard to transport and took up a lot of space. They came to the training so that the participants could learn to build a device that would help families like theirs: a lightweight, customized and inexpensive chair that could be easily carried and would fit in tight spaces.

Christensen taught a room-full of physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists and educators how to make a little chair out of strong but lightweight cardboard material, hot glue and tape. He also helped them brainstorm solutions for people with disabilities.

Professionals from the Disability Law Center and the Utah Center for Assistive Technology also presented at the event.

Christensen credits much of his own AT training to Amy Henningsen, an Up to 3 occupational therapist who is one of the pioneers of the Assistive Technology Lab at the Utah Assistive Technology Program. The lab and UATP are part of the CPD at Utah State University.


photo of measurement process

A training participant measures a child to ensure the custom-made chair will fit him.

For example, she remembers a young man who was in first grade more than 15 years ago. “While other children were learning the basics of handwriting, it was not an option for him,” she said. “His fluctuating muscle tone hindered his fine motor control so he was unable to write.  With a modified keyboard holder which allowed him somewhere to rest his forearms, he was accurately able to use his index finger to practice ‘writing’ his letters just like the other children were doing.” Other low-tech adjutments helped him to sit properly and to rest his feet on the ground.

Today, that young man who struggled to write is a mechanical engineering student. Looking back, Henningsen wonders if, without the assistive technology that made it possible for him to use a keyboard, he would have spent a large part of his educational experience working on handwriting—a skill that he struggles with to this day. He could have spent a lot of time trying to master a skill rather than maximizing his engineering abilities.

Christensen said it was inspiring for him to watch Henningsen in action, earlier in his career. “She can problem-solve pretty quickly. … This comes from the years that she’s been doing it, and the fact that she really cares.”

Now, Christensen and other assistive technology professionals are spreading the word about low tech solutions. Both Christensen and Henningsen said the low-tech AT approach is still eye-opening to many of the professionals they train, and it can bridge those gaps that prevent people with disabilities from reaching their full potential.

The workshop in St. George was one of several that will be offered throughout the state. The trainings are funded through the Interagency Outreach and Training Initiative.

Low-tech Assistive  Technology Trainings  Roosevelt: February 26 	Uintah Basin Technical College  Price: March 29 Utah State University, Price  Blanding: March 30 Utah State University, Blanding  For more information on these trainings, or to  schedule one in your area, contact Alma  at 435.797.0253


The “why” behind the design: one man’s experience with web accessibility training

January 19, 2018 by JoLynne Lyon

Photo of Old Main at USU

WebAIM periodically trains industry professionals on web accessibility at Utah State University.

WebAIM regularly brings web developers and other professionals to Utah State University, where they conduct trainings on accessibility. Recently, participant Dan Hendrickson wrote what that experience meant to him:

One of the most memorable experiences was visiting another building on the USU campus that showcased assistive technologies. Walking through the halls we saw old and new inventions showcased behind glass with photos that illustrated their importance to those with disabilities. More importantly, we were brought to a room where we met an amazing individual who faced her disabilities with optimism and honesty. Her low vision and dexterity challenges didn’t keep her from using technology and living a full life. She was able to shop, communicate and operate mostly on her own because of assistive technologies available on her iOS device. And her honesty was refreshing; where she encountered difficulty in a poorly developed website she expressed her frustration with humor. Her plea was simply to do our best with people like her in mind.

You can read Hendrickson’s entire post on the Volum8 blog.

WebAIM Executive Director Cyndi Rowland said the WebAIM team gives its trainees experiences that help them understand not only how accessibility is done, but why.

“During almost all local WebAIM training events, we arrange for an assistive technology user to both demo what and how they use their AT, but also to talk candidly about what is helpful, or very frustrating for them.  It is good for designers and developers to hear this perspective from users.  It also gives them an actual person upon whom they can reflect as they move forward with their work; sometimes this simple thing can be the most powerful, especially if those technical folks don’t have persons with disabilities in their work, home or community spheres.”

WebAIM’s next training events are January 23-24 and February 27-28. Visit their website for more information.

New tools from the CPD allow site-wide web accessibility evaluation

January 16, 2018 by JoLynne Lyon

Photo of Jon and Jared

Jonathan Whiting and Jared Smith, WebAIM’s WAVE development team

WebAIM has long set the standard for web accessibility, and its WAVE tool has made it possible for people everywhere to find out whether a web page is usable for people with disabilities. Now, new options make it possible to use WAVE across an entire website.

“The online version of WAVE and the browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox are and always will be free,” said Jared Smith, associate director of WebAIM and a developer of the WAVE web accessibility evaluation tool. But the new license options allow users to evaluate more than one page at a time.

“People wanted that data that WAVE provides on a page, but they wanted it across an entire website,” Smith said.

Users can access these new, more powerful tools in several ways. A subscription allows a user’s server to send and receive data from WebAIM via the cloud. A stand-alone option allows WAVE to run on the user’s own system. A third option, DynoLitics, will be offered through a partnership between Pope Tech and  WebAIM, using WAVE’s technology  to provide detailed reports and customized dashboards to keep users abreast of their websites’ accessibility.

Using these new tools, developers would have to option to set up the service to do a number of things: perhaps periodically evaluate the entire site, or even identify accessibility issues in real time. For example, a blogger could be warned of missing alt text before a post is published.

The new licensing options, which started last fall, are made possible by Utah State University’s technology transfer services. These services handled WAVE’s revenue and legal aspects.

The licensing options will be especially useful for universities, municipalities, government agencies and groups that develop multiple websites, Smith said.

WebAIM is located in the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University.

Read more on this topic in a Herald Journal article, published January 22, 2018.





South East Early Intervention Program receives community award

January 5, 2018 by Kelly Smith

Joanna Onorato, Outreach Coordinator for the MVMC, and Audrey Graham, Developmental Specialist for the South East Early Intervention Program.

Joanna Onorato, Outreach Coordinator for the MVMC, and Audrey Graham, Developmental Specialist for the South East Early Intervention Program.

The South East Early Intervention Program was recently honored as the Community Partner of the Year by the Moab Valley Multicultural Center (MVMCC) for its efforts in “building bridges across language and culture through family support, community collaboration, and education.”

The program, which began in 2011, is a home-based program serving children from birth to 3 who are at risk of having developmental delays, or are diagnosed with a disability. Services include early identification and developmental services in Emery, Carbon, and Grand counties in Utah.

Janeal Dugmore, Program  Coordinator, explains their partnership with the MVMCC, “Specifically, we use the interpretation services of MVMC with every Spanish speaking family we serve, and MVMC helps us with understanding cultural differences in beliefs and practices with these families. We also have MVMC translate our materials and parent communication for us, so that all families feel welcome and at home using our services. We truly value our collaboration with the MVMC as we improve the lives of many young children each year and help Moab be a safe and inclusive place to live.”