Highlights of the ATIA Conference

Where the Assistive Technology Community Meets to…Network, Learn and Share

If you use assistive technology (or work in the field) then I recommend you take any opportunity you get to attend the big international conference in Orlando: ATIA. I’m very fortunate in that this is my sixth ATIA and, without doubt, the best so far. Here’s how it went down in 2023.

ATIA runs in three parts:

The busy Exhibition Hall which is free for all (you don’t need an ATIA ticket to attend) with 110 companies showing off the latest and greatest assistive technology.

A total of 289 seminars and posters from leading experts in the field and individuals who use assistive technology (sometimes both!). Seminars are divided into 8 topics:

  1. AT for Physical Access and Participation
  2. Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)
  3. Education & Learning: Early Intervention to 12/High Education
  4. Mainstream and Web Accessible Technologies
  5. Transition and Workplace Accessibility
  6. Vision and Hearing Technologies
  7. Leadership
  8. Research

The conference space and schedule is set up for plenty of networking and miscellaneous meetings and you may meet your AT heroes, or even become someone else’s hero! 🙂

Charlie Danger at ATIA 2023
Charlie Danger at ATIA 2023

My highlights

There’s loads to choose from this year, but these are the moments that stick most in my mind.

Communicate to Participate

Judith Schoonover and I delivered a one-day pre-conference session which explored the importance of following the NJC Communication Bill of Rights every day for those who use augmentative communication aids. We had loads of practical examples and ideas, and loved our audience who brought their own experiences and knowledge. During the remainder of the conference I kept hearing and seeing things that left me thinking “we should have included that!” Hopefully we’ll have an opportunity to build on this at #ATIA2024.

Judith Schoonover preparing the low-tech equipment for our preconference session.
Judith Schoonover preparing the low-tech equipment for our preconference session.

Exploring AAC Communicators Mental Health Challenges

Stephanie Fassov is a lifetime user of AAC with a Bachelors and a Masters degree in communication, and is now working towards a Masters in mental health. She was one of many speakers who provided great examples of something we should have included in our pre-con session. Stephanie described the experience of having mental health difficulties as an AAC user, and made some clear connections between emotional dysregulation and the vocabulary that is made available to young users. In order to make emotions tangible and understandable we must be able to label them, but how many emotions are available in a symbol users vocabulary?

Find out more at AAC Peer Support – Empowering Individuals to find their voice

Stephanie Fassov a speaker at ATIA
Stephanie Fassov a speaker at ATIA

A Beginner’s Guide to Adaptive Video Gaming

Want to be able to tell your Hori Flex from your XAC? Drew Redepenning is a fourth-year medical student and, seemingly, a full-time assistive gaming expert. He managed to get across an enormous amount of information on accessible gaming while giving a shout out to UK gaming stalwarts One Switch and Special Effect. Hopefully Drew also now knows about Everyone Can. I’ve always wanted to get a good foundation on adaptive gaming and now I feel I’ve got it. Drew’s Gaming Readapted website is full of free information for you to go in-depth with this fascinating, participation-focussed topic.

Full Team Ahead: Collaborating on Accessible Instruction for Children with CVI

Clear goals and clear roles lead to better student outcomes and more opportunities to build vision. Every year at ATIA my report card for supporting young people with cortical visual impairments is stamped “could do better.” CVI is the leading cause of childhood visual impairment in the UK and by carefully recognising everyone’s visual skills we are able to accommodate their needs to maximise their participation. In doing so we are also treating their CVI so that their vision improves through appropriate practice. What does this involve? Often it’s as simple as using trifold black backgrounds to provide contrast, the use of roman word bubble writing, and lightboxes (a backlight explains one reason why so many individuals are able to use AAC on iPads and not on paper-based aids). This presentation from the team at the Overbrook School for the Blind reinforced that identification and intervention for CVI requires input from everybody, including the family, teachers, health professionals and more.

Tolt Technologies Ability Drive

This year I finally had the opportunity to drive the Ability Drive eye-gaze wheelchair from Tolt Technologies. This all began in a Microsoft hackathon day in 2014 when Steve Gleason used an Xbox Kinect to use his eyes to drive his wheelchair. Eventually this matured into the intuitive and mature product that it is today. Works with any eye-gaze tracker with an R-Net-powered chair (Some Permobil and Sunrise Medical models).

Find out more at Tolt Technologies and Rahana Life.

Charlie Danger driving the the Ability Drive eye-gaze wheelchair from Tolt Technologies
Charlie Danger driving the the Ability Drive eye-gaze wheelchair from Tolt Technologies

Communication Works 2023 – Celebrating Assistive Technology in Education

A bit closer to home did you know that CENMAC and Ace Centre run an annual conference called Communication Works? It celebrates assistive technology in education and features a seminar programme run by the CENMAC team of Advisory teachers, SALTs, OTs, product specialists with the assistance of some wonderful students. It’s coming up soon – the South event takes place on Thursday 18th May at the Charlton Athletic Football Stadium in South East London and the North event on Thursday 25th May at New Bridge School, Oldham, Greater Manchester. It’s a great opportunity to get hands on with some of the latest assistive technologies and it’s free to attend! Find out more about it here and reserve your ticket!

Communication Works 2023 Celebrating Assistive Technology
Communication Works 2023 Celebrating Assistive Technology

About the author

Charlie Danger is an Occupational Therapist with a MSc in Paediatric Language & Communication Impairment. He is an Advanced Practitioner in AAC and Assistive Technology  and works as a consultant for CENMAC. Follow Charlie on Twitter.

Charlie Danger at ATIA 2023
Charlie Danger at ATIA 2023