ATIA 2024: Five Things I Learned
From Inclusive Disney to a Mouth-Controlled Mouse!
The Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) Conference is a mecca for anyone passionate about assistive technology (AT). While I’d previously heard lots about it, attending seemed like a distant dream, especially considering its annual Orlando location. However, thanks to the inspiring presentation on the AT Scholar programme at last year’s Communication Works event, I applied and was thrilled to be selected as one of this year’s two scholars!
This incredible opportunity covered conference fees, accommodation, and flights, allowing me to fully immerse myself in the experience. As a scholar, I’m tasked with sharing my newfound knowledge, building connections, and reporting back to UK audiences. I even extended my stay for pre-conference seminars, maximising every minute.
Mary Long at the ATIA conference held at the Orlando World Centre Marriott hotel
ATIA’s yearly conference and exhibition is a global giant, and this year, in its new home at the Orlando World Centre Marriott (visible from space, I’m sure!), it felt even bigger. Prepping beforehand, I meticulously combed through the mobile app, bookmarking sessions and exhibitors that I didn’t want to miss. With over 350 sessions, and more than 125 exhibitors, a pre-flight FOMO set in, but once in Orlando, I embraced every moment, even venturing outside my comfort zone.
Arriving in the US the weekend before, I couldn’t miss the chance to spend a couple of days exploring the Disney parks, even though I have never been much of a theme park fan.
Meeting a Disney accessibility expert was fascinating. She shared their commitment to creating an inclusive experience for all, including testing audio descriptions for park attractions. For a small refundable deposit, visitors can access these descriptions through handheld devices, ensuring that visual elements of attractions and rides come alive.
Joanna Collins, a software engineer in the Technology and Digital organization at Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, is known for her passion and advocacy for accessibility in Disney’s websites
The Main Event
There was so much to take in throughout the conference, and while I’ll go into greater detail in my official AT Scholar report, here are five key takeaways from ATIA 2024.
1. A community like no other
The genuine warmth and community spirit blew me away. As a Londoner accustomed to public transport’s “heads down/don’t speak” culture, encountering so many eager-to-connect individuals, both attendees and exhibitors, was refreshing. The sense of togetherness was truly powerful.
The ATIA community in the exhibition hall
2. Tech Titans going above and beyond
Apple and Google impressed with their accessibility advancements. Chromebooks’ built-in accessibility features are fantastic, with ChromeVox screen reader activating upon first use, making it accessible right out of the box. Apple’s Personal Voice has introduction of “Speech” as a fifth accessibility pillar alongside Vision, Hearing, Mobility, and Cognition is another positive step.
Apple Personal Voice and Live Speech
3. The MouthPad: Innovation at its finest
This revolutionary new product from Augmental uses the tongue to control a mouse positioned on the roof of the mouth. For individuals with limited limb use or fatigue-inducing access methods, the MouthPad offers a groundbreaking solution.
The revolutionary MouthPad from Augmental
4. Braille’s Enduring Importance
Braille’s enduring relevance and continued evolution were undeniable. Witnessing its diverse applications across various contexts reaffirmed its significance in the AT landscape. I know many fellow attendees were wowed by the Monarch device by Humanware with it’s refreshable tactile display for rendering graphics, and I can’t wait to see this become more widely available for some of the schools and students I support.
Monarch Braille device by Humanware
5. Comfy shoes are essential!
The ATIA exhibition is enormous so comfy shoes are essential! Trust me, you’ll be walking (and networking) a lot! Beyond these highlights, ATIA 2024 was an invaluable experience filled with learning, connection, and inspiration. I look forward to sharing more in my official report and using this knowledge to empower others in the UK. You can read more about this year’s conference on the official ATIA website.
Author: Mary Long, CENMAC Deputy Team Leader and Advisory Teacher
Mary Long (right) with fellow AT Scholar Mary Lavender