by Rachel Anderson, Marketing & Communications Manager
I just got back from the 2016 ATIA conference in Orlando, FL and all I can say is…WOW!
After working in the assistive technology (AT) field for over four years, I can honestly say that I have never been to an event quite like this ATIA conference that was held in Florida last week. I knew it would be a very large event, but I had no idea that it would bring together OTs, PTs, SLPs, teachers, state tech acts, companies and nonprofits alike from all over the United States as well as many companies and people from Europe in such a profound way. It truly united us all in our common goals to make cutting edge AT affordable and accessible to all of the students and adults that could benefit from it.
The ATIA is a non-profit membership organization of providers of AT devices and services. The large conference they hold every year in Florida – it used to be in Illinois – brings together many different types of groups – but all with a strong AT focus – and I found it really easy to build connections with all of the attendees and the exhibitors. I missed the pre-conference workshops which I learned more about from other attendees, but I still instantly felt like part of the community when I arrived on Wednesday night for the opening of the impressive exhibit hall.
On that first night, I found myself accidentally ushered into a retirement party for Florida teachers when I was looking for a session on an eye-gaze device, and although I excused myself before they served some delicious looking cupcakes, I could have stayed all night, as I was having a good time speaking with them about their challenges and successes with getting the proper AT into the hands of their students.
One of the benefits of making so many friends so quickly and easily was to be able to go to different sessions and and then learn about the ones you missed from others also at the conference and staying in the same hotel. There were just so many sessions each and every hour that it was very difficult to decide which session to go to… which was refreshing but also frustrating for me at times because making split decisions is not my strong suit.
In addition to the many many sessions to choose from every day, the exhibit hall was impressive with lots of fun and interactive demonstrations, tons of great “freebies” for educators, and many entries for expensive AT items through raffles and drawings. I was very disappointed that I didn’t win anything (except a Saltillo tee shirt) but I was very excited for those people that did, because I know that the AT will be used and appreciated just as it would have been in one of our Device Lending Libraries.
There was a wide array of different disabilities represented, but many of the sessions and exhibitors were geared towards learning and communication apps, devices and software, as well as a few for individuals that are blind or low vision. Fortunately for educators, there were many sessions that offered continuing education credits (CEUs) as well!
I will be writing more about much of the exciting AT I saw in subsequent blogs, but to just highlight a few of the new AT i saw – check out this new robot, a new eye gaze system, communication glasses, a new reader pen for test-taking, and the Bluebee bluetooth stuffed animal collection. If you get the chance to go next year, I highly recommend it – for any and all professionals that use or are interested in AT.