Getting Warmer at the ATIA Conference

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Looking for a way to get warmer and up your assistive technology know-how? Well, sadly, you missed it– for this year, anyway. The Assistive Technology Industry Association, a non-profit organization that represents manufacturers and vendors of assistive technology solutions,  held its 15th annual conference in Orlando, Fla., during the last week of January (right about when half the country was under a winter advisory). But it wasn’t all about the weather; there was plenty of good information to be found. Two days were set aside for a selection of one- and two-day workshops, with topics such as Universal Design for Web Design and Digital Media and Technology Supported Evidence-Based PracticesThe Changing Role of AT Teams and an iPad Boot Camp.

From Thursday morning to Saturday, shorter presentations ran concurrently, providing the more than 2,600 attendees with an overwhelming set of choices. For many, the problem wasn’t which sessions to go to but which to miss due to clashes! Fortunately the handouts for all the sessions were available at the conference website so it was possible to ensure you took home all the information you came to collect.

Additionally there were more than 100 vendor booths showing the latest in software, hardware, and services available to the AT community. People tried out eye-gaze systems, tested screen-readers and magnifiers, saw hundreds of apps and software packages, met with people who use AAC devices, and  generally had lots of hands-on experiences with a broad range of technological solutions.

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And don’t forget about social media. Attendee Karen Janowski (@KarenJan) is an occupational therapist and assistive technology specialist with Newton Public Schools in Boston, and is a regular at the ATIA conferences. This year she was instrumental in organizing a now familiar event at many events – the conference Tweet-up. As an advocate of leveraging new social media technologies, she says that, “The Tweet-up was a great success and provided an opportunity for people to connect with their Twitter colleagues. Meeting each other face-to-face helps to strengthen those connections that have been made virtually. People on Twitter seem to be on the cutting edge and always willing to share ideas and information. In fact, Twitter has become one of the best professional development tools out there, with hashtags being central to the power of tweeting.”

As the host of a regular Twitter event, the #ATChat discussion group, Karen understands the growing role tweeting has in supplementing learning and interaction among the AT community. “In fact,” she says, “Twitter can get your reputation ‘out there’ beyond the AT community, and this facility to reach outside of your field is important.”

This was also the first year that an app was available on both on iOS and Android platforms to help people check on session and exhibitor information. The ATIA conference team estimated that over 2,000 copies of the app were downloaded, suggesting this will become a regular feature of future events.

The next conference is already scheduled to take place again in Orlando from January 27th-31st, 2015, (probably right about the time the second Nor’easter of the winter is bearing down) with the call for papers taking place between April 21st and June 20th this year. If you are interested in attending a great AT and AAC conference, put this on your radar. And for those of us living in the north, a week in Orlando in January is never a bad idea!

Russell Cross, MS, CCC-SLP,  is the Director of Clinical Applications for the Prentke Romich Company, a developer of AAC solutions. He is a member of ASHA SIG 12 and writer for the Speech Dudes blog.