Well….it’s the end of January and that can only mean one thing. No, not the Super Bowl but the annual Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) conference in Orlando. Not a bad choice for a conference – especially if it allows me to escape the 12″ of snow we got last week at home in NJ. Warmer weather aside, this yearly pilgrimage gives me a great opportunity to renew, reflect and recharge.
I have often said to anyone who listens (and even quite a few that don’t!), our profession is not about technology but about people. The most important take home from any conference, for me professionally, is the personal connections I make with other AT people. Technology changes – often it changes so rapidly that we can’t keep up. By nurturing these personal connections, I no longer have to “know everything” instead I just need to “know who knows” about devices and services.
The excitement of attending a conference is about renewing those friendships that have developed. For many years, I was a national trainer for California State University, Northridge. I criss-crossed the country delivering the Assistive Technology Applications Certificate Program (ATACP) to over 1,000 people. To this day, I will run into past participants at this conference and get a chance to reconnect and hear how they are making a difference to people with disabilities. That is such a powerful, proud moment and one that I look forward to every year.
While it is always great to run into past participants, the ATIA conference brings with it a guarantee of running into my three partners in crime from the ATACP days: Kirk Behnke, Kelly Fonner, and Scott Marfilius. We don’t get to see each other nearly as much as I would like but this week in Orlando gives us the opportunity to reconnect, share a bunch of laughs, and just generally “be around” each other. We spent many a week together in some city, in some part of the country – facilitating a learning experience for a group of strangers. At the end of each training, the participants would gain a powerful new network of professional resources and we would share experiences that are sometimes hard to explain unless you were there. Not that we won’t try to explain – stop us and ask us and you will usually get more of a story than you bargained for!
These three have taught me what it means to be an AT professional and I am thankful for their friendship every day. You can be sure at the conference if you see one of us – chances are that the rest of us are close by!
It is hard to believe that 2014 marks my 25th year providing AT services. In that time, many technology tools have come and gone. The ATIA conference gives me the opportunity to reflect on our profession and the work we still need to do. No matter how high tech the tools become, no matter how many “apps” come out good quality service provision is key. Focus on best practices and quality principles in delivering services to individuals with disabilities.
If you are here this week at ATIA, enjoy learning about the “stuff” – it is cool after all – but remember that good AT services go far beyond “stuff”. Think about matching user needs/abilities to device features. Remember that successful AT implementation doesn’t end when the person gets the technology – it is really only beginning.
Finally, the conference has the same effect on me every year: I leave Orlando at the end of the week invigorated and ready to change the world with all my new knowledge! For all the attendees here this week I hope that you leave with the same feeling. This is an exciting, ever changed field that affords us the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of people with disabilities. Don’t let that pressure adversely affect you – embrace it!
Some quick tips to make it through the conference:
- You can’t go to every session! Don’t even try. You will end up sitting it a corner of the conference center muttering to yourself about apps and iPads and other things we won’t be able to make out.
- Prioritize sessions you are interested in. If you came with a co-worker – split up and cover more ground. Even though it is fun to experience the sessions together – this strategy will let you take more from the conference.
- Download the conference app and plan your time – http://www.atia.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageID=4469
- Make new connections – sit with someone new at lunch, strike up a conversation before a session starts. The connections you make at this year’s conference may provide you help somewhere down the road.
- Most importantly – Breathe! Take a minute to step outside and get some fresh air.
If you are here all week at the conference – stop me and say hello. Anybody who knows me will tell you – I love to talk!
If you aren’t here – there are two things you can do. First, make plans to be here next year!
In the short term, make sure to follow all the conference excitement on twitter – follow the hashtag #ATIA14
Enjoy the conference and I look forward to learning from everyone!