Students spend spring break at the CPD

March 29, 2013 by Sue Reeves

Image of two woman working on wheelchair

Katie Johnson (left) and Alisha Voigt pull usable parts from at donated wheelchair at CReATE.

Spring break is traditionally the time when college students, particularly those from colder climates, head south for fun in the sun. For many, there will be a beach involved.

But eight students from the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University in central Minnesota instead chose to spend their free time at Utah State University’s Center for Persons with Disabilities, doing volunteer work, learning about the culture in Utah and spending time with people served by CPD programs. Most had no experience interacting or working with people with disabilities.

This is the fourth year that college students from outside of Utah have traveled to the CPD to volunteer, and the second year in a row for CSB/SJU students participating in their schools’ Alternative Break Experience (ABE).

This week, the students boarded two vans and headed to Salt Lake City to do some work at CReATE, or Citizens Reutilizing Assistive Technology Equipment. CReATE is an initiative of the CPD’s Utah Assistive Technology Program  now housed at the Utah Center for Assistive Technology.

CReATE refurbishes donated mobility equipment like power wheelchairs and scooters, then provides them to people who need them at a much lower cost than new.

According to program coordinator Alma Burgess, the program serves people who don’t have a lot of money, or who may have used up all of their insurance or Medicaid benefits.

“We take a device, or maybe two or three, and take them apart and put them together to make one device,” Burgess said. “If a donated device can’t be refurbished at a reasonable price, it gets recycled.”

Nothing goes out the door for more than $500, said Burgess, and half of that cost is usually batteries for the device. The money that is collected from consumers is called a service fee, and covers the technician’s time for cleaning and refurbishing the device, as well as any new parts that must be purchased.

It’s a significant savings when new power chairs can cost up to $30,000 or more, he said.

Zachary Thompson works 24 hours a week at CReATE, and until recently, picked up donations and made deliveries in addition to refurbishing equipment. With his time so limited, Thompson relies on volunteers like the CSB/SJU students to help keep the warehouse organized and maintained.

From left: Erin Spelz, Kaylee Larson and Shannon Lane move a power chair in the CReATE warehouse.

From left: Erin Spelz, Kaylee Larson and Shannon Lane move a power chair in the CReATE warehouse.

Last year, volunteers from CSB/SJU and from Grand Valley State University in Michigan gave the equivalent of three weeks’ worth of Thompson’s hours to CReATE.

On Wednesday, the students untangled battery charger cords and wrapped them with zip ties, removed battery cables from junk batteries and stripped usable parts from chairs destined for the recycling center. They also cleaned out a storage area and moved some shelving units.

In addition to the trip to CReATE, the students packed their spring break week with a visit to Temple Square and sightseeing in Salt Lake City and snowshoeing at Beaver Mountain with Common Ground. They also observed a music therapy class, met with OPTIONS for Independence, had breakfast with students from Project PEER and spent time with participants at the Developmental Skills Lab.

Katie Johnson, a senior sociology major, is the only member of the group who came to the CPD last year, and says service work is an important part of her life. She hasn’t had a lot of experience with people with disabilities, she said, but is planning a career in the medical field, so this trip is valuable.

A friend of Yixi (Stacey) Chen, a senior accounting major, was a co-leader for the trip to the CPD last year and strongly recommended the experience.

“It’s my last year in college and I wanted to do something interesting and enjoy the rest of the school year,” she said. It’s her first trip to Utah, and her first time working with people with disabilities.

“I feel like we really did a lot to help them,” she said. “If you treat them like normal people, like a friend, it’s awesome.”

Senior nursing major Alisha Voigt, said she wants to gain more experience in working with people with disabilities before she starts her career.

“I wanted to be more confident with people with disabilities … get to know them as people before they become my patients,” she said.

The trip to CReATE, and stripping the usable parts from donated chairs, brought back memories of being with her dad and fixing things in the garage. She also learned why reutilizing assistive technology is so important.

“You see people in wheelchairs and you don’t think about how hard it is for people to get them,” she said.

Image of tangled cords

Spring break students untangled and organized the CReATE warehouse.

Erin Speltz, a sophomore peace studies major, had a lot of volunteer experience in high school, but hasn’t been able to volunteer as much as she would like to in college.

“This is an experience I can’t get on a regular basis,” she said.

She was worked with people with disabilities in settings where the focus was not on their disabilities, but has not had much experience with people who have physical disabilities. She currently works in a theatre where she provides listening devices or other accommodations to people with disabilities.

You’ll always have to be around people with disabilities, she said, and she needed more experience so that it could be integrated into all aspects of her life. And at CReATE, she said with a smile, she learned how to use a wrench.

Sophomore chemistry and Spanish major Katherine Maguire is involved in a service organization at school, and has wanted to go on an ABE trip for the last two years. She’s never worked with people with disabilities, so the week at the CPD has been “awesome,” she said.

Kaylee Larson, a sophomore nursing major, works in the office at school that coordinates all the ABE trips. She works with people with disabilities at her summer job, but always sees them in more of a home setting.

“It’s interesting to see them in more of a school setting,” she said.

Senior math major Shannon Lane and junior computer science major Andrew Zurn found the experience to be a little different than they expected.

“I thought it would be more working with kids instead of doing projects, but it’s good, we’re helping people,” Lane said.

“I’m grateful for the snowshoeing trip with Common Ground,” Zurn said. “It was a lot of fun. It’s definitely been a great experience, one that I’m happy for.”

For more photos of the CReATE trip, visit our Facebook photo gallery here.



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South East Early Intervention receives United Way grant

March 27, 2013 by Sue Reeves

Image of check presentation.

Bill Maikranz (center), executive director of United Way of Eastern Utah, presents a check to South East Early Intervention directors Kathi Kearney Reaves (left) and Lois Boomer (right).

South East Early Intervention, based in Price, recently received a United Way Community Impact Grant for $5,000.

According to early interventionist Tammy Allred, the money will be used to purchase toys for the children who are served by South East, including toys that help increase awareness, toys that make things happen, toys for movement and toys to communicate.

The use of switches and switch-activated toys, Allred said, helps children with disabilities build the cognitive skills needed for future communication, independent self-help skills and higher-level cognitive functioning. The adaptive switches provide new opportunities for children to learn, play and explore. The switches also provide a way for the children to have greater control over, and to access, their environment.

Researcher observes educational system in Saudi Arabia

March 25, 2013 by Sue Reeves

Image of panelists

CPD researcher Vonda Jump (at left) participates in a panel discussion in Saudi Arabia.

Vonda Jump, senior research scientist at Utah State University’s Center for Persons with Disabilities, traveled to Saudi Arabia in mid-February to make presentations during the International Exhibition and Forum for Education. Jump presented on classroom assessment techniques at the conference, and on evaluation techniques in the 21st century to the Saudi Ministry of Education and university faculty members at the Arab Bureau of Education.

Her appearance at the conference took quite a circuitous route.

As part of Jump’s Strengthening Early Childhood Education in Jordan project, an essential book, Developmentally Appropriate Practice, was translated into Arabic and published by the Arab Bureau of Education. One of Jump’s colleagues from Jordan is now teaching at a university in Saudi Arabia, enlisting her help with a company, Altofola, that has recently published an early childhood curriculum.  USU graduate Norah Alfayez is the deputy minister of education for girls in Saudi Arabia, the highest ranking woman official in the ministry. Alfayez saw a copy of the book, and also contacted Jump.

Jump wore the required head scarf and abaya, which covered her body from head to toe, during her visit.

“It was interesting to do the conference presentation, looking out into a sea of black,” said Jump.  “For about half of the women, I could only see their eyes, and most of the others had the niqaq (head scarf) on. A few took off the head scarf entirely, because it was a group of only women.”

She was also able to observe in the schools, and to talk with educators about the educational process in Saudi Arabia. Some kindergartens enroll both boys and girls, but schools are segregated by first grade, and boys and girls are educated separately through high school and college. They are taught the same subjects, Jump said, and the school day runs from about 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Religion is very important there, she said, and children start learning about Islam and the Quran if they are in school at age 3.  Of course, like children in other religions, they will be learning from their families at home before that time.

She visited a kindergarten, where she saw only fathers picking up their daughters after school. The father would give the child’s name to the guard, who then relayed it via intercom to a female teacher. The teacher would send the child out unattended, because men and women can’t be together.

“To be honest, I would be worried about a person trying to pick up a child without authorization, but it seems like it works,” Jump said. “Saudi Arabia was one of the most different places I’ve ever been in my life, and I hope to return to learn more about their interesting culture.”

Image of conference

Audience members are divided, with men on one side of the table and women on the other.


CPD employees honored for service

March 22, 2013 by Sue Reeves

Image of honored employees

From left: Gordon Richins, Alma Burgess, Cathy Mace and Monica Urrutia. Below: Cynthia Budge. Not pictured: Thomas Higbee and Margaret Lubke.

Several employees at Utah State University’s Center for Persons with Disabilities were honored for their years of service at an Employee Recognition Luncheon at the Taggart Student Center on March 19.

Alma Burgess was honored for 10 years of service. Burgess is a project coordinator and works on many projects including Utah Assistive Technology Program (UATP), Citizen’s Reutilizing Assistive Technology Equipment (CReATE), Interdisciplinary Disability Awareness and Service Learning (IDASL), Assistive Technology Assessments, Maintenance and Repair and Utah Military Family Support 360.

Thomas Higbee was honored for 10 years of service. Higbee is a CPD Faculty Fellow, a faculty member in the Utah Regional Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (URLEND) program and the founder and director of Autism Support Services: Education, Research and Training (ASSERT) program. Higbee is currently on sabbatical in Brazil.

Image of Cynthia BudgeMonica Urrutia was honored for 10 years of service. Since coming to the CPD in 2002, she has worked on various projects including Traumatic Brain Injury, AgrAbility, UATP and Utah Assistive Technology Foundation (UATF). Urretia teaches Spanish at Utah State University and also serves as the liaison for the Latino community

Gordon Richins was honored for 15 years of service. As Consumer Liaison, he works at improving the relationships between the CPD, persons with disabilities, and organizations that serve people with disabilities. He provides staff support for the CPD Consumer Advisory Council, is an active member of the AUCD and the Council on Community Advocacy (COCA) and is involved with several local and statewide organizations within the disability community.

Cathy Mace was honored for 15 years of service. Mace is a Registered Dietitian, a Certified Early Interventionist II and a Service Coordinator for the Up-to-3 Program. She coordinates the LEAP (Let’s Eat And Play) Frog picky eaters group and is a member of the Up to 3 Feeding Team, Child Find Committee, Parent Resource and Concerns Committee and the Social Committe.

Cynthia Budge was honored for 20 years of service. Budge is the Multimedia Specialist for the Technical Assistance for Excellence in Special Education (TAESE) Center and is responsible for conference planning, formatting, layout, and design of the TAESE materials and other publications used in conferences and institutes throughout the United States.

Margaret Lubke was honored for 25 years of service. Lubke has worked in the technical assistance division, in the USU psychology department, and now heads up the assessment responsibilities for the CPD’s New Mexico Start Smart K-3 Plus i3 project.


Virtual Home Visits could be a cost-saving alternative

March 20, 2013 by Sue Reeves

Image of mom and baby at computer.The feasibility of using technology to deliver early intervention services is the subject of a paper that appeared in the Winter 2012 edition of The Volta Review, a publication of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

Sue Olsen, director of exemplary services, Barb Fiechtl, clinical instructor in the department of special education and rehabilitation and Sarah Rule, professor emeritus in the department of special education and rehabilitation, were invited to submit the article describing the research study.

According to Olsen, a two-year Stepping Stones technology grant was used to study the feasibility of using VoIP (voice-over-Internet-protocol) technology to deliver early intervention services to families in the Up to 3 program.

Up to 3 serves Cache, Box Elder and Rich counties in northern Utah—an area that covers 7,819 square miles. Using computers, broadband Internet connections, video cameras and microphones, early intervention staff members conducted Virtual Home Visits (VHVs) to provide services.

The researchers found that VHVs can lessen the barriers of time, travel and availability of early intervention staff, and require families to have minimal experience with VoIP systems. VHVs resulted in cost savings and increased efficiency because the time not spent in travel could be devoted to interactions with families.

The researchers noted, however, that there is some risk associated with using the Internet due to privacy concerns. The research team did not evaluate that risk but said the issue warrants further study.

Two other studies by USU researchers were published in this edition of The Volta Review. They are Expanding Use of Telepractice in Speech Language Pathology and Audiology by Marge Edwards and two colleagues, and Telepractice Services at Sound Beginnings at Utah State University by Edwards, Kristina M. Blaiser, Diane Behl and Karen Munoz.