Friday, March 4, 2011

The 26th Annual International Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference

Sandy Plotin
Managing Director
Center on Disabilities
California State University, Northridge

The 26th Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference ( will be held March 14-19, 2011 at the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel in San Diego. TPGA editor Shannon spoke with Sandy last week about who the conference is for, who will be speaking, and why anyone who can go, should.

Can you summarize the goals of the conference for us?

Our conference is in its 26th year, and is dedicated to promoting all the things that people with disabilities can do, all the technologies that are out there. The most important feature we like to get across about our conference is the networking aspect -- people find out just as much information from talking to other people in the sessions or walking in the hallways as they do from the speakers.

This is the place where, if you have a question, if you have a technology you're looking for, anything you need to know -- our conference is the place to find it. And no matter what your disability is, you're going to find someone there with information about it.

Our conference is the longest-running, the biggest, and the only university-sponsored conference of its type. We have many international attendees, we have attendees from all over the United States. We don't just have sessions, we have exhibit halls, we have pre-conference workshops. And basically, if you can't find it at our conference, then it doesn't exist yet. When people want to highlight new technology, they do it at our conference. They save it for us.

This year especially, with all the ADA legislation coming down, we have very important federal government representatives doing sessions. There's also listings sessions, there are open-to-the-public sessions. There's so much going on that it's mind-boggling. By the end of the week, people complain that they're just exhausted, that there's too much to do, they can't get to everything.

Can you give us an idea of who the attendees tend to be? People with disabilities, administrators, educators, parents and caregivers?

It's everybody. Professionals, practitioners, consumers, researchers, people from universities -- anyone who's involved with disabilities will be at our conference. Our sessions cover research, practical applications, new technology, everything.

Are there sessions which tend to focus on autism and autism providers?

Absolutely. And there are some that focus on children, too. We have 25 exhibitors that feature AAC (augmentative and alternative communication). We have 35 general sessions just dedicated to AAC, for instance:
  • AAC in Autism: A Comparison of PECS and Speech Output Technology
  • Behavior Solutions for Autism: Light to High Tech AAC
  • Using Technology to Enhance the Classroom: Strategies for Children with Autism
  • Making AAC Therapy Fun: Motivating Children with Autism to Speak  
  • The Autism Curriculum Encyclopedia®: A Web-based Prescription for Autism Education
There's an entire list of sessions. The sessions just span everything.

How about efforts to bring accessible technology into developing countries?

Funny you should ask, that's our keynote. We'll have a panel, and what we'll be focusing on is emerging technologies in third world countries, and how can we connect assistive technologies design.

What about other special sessions?

This year is going to be especially important because of the new ADA laws that everyone's going to be accountable for. Plus President Obama issued executive order 13548 last year, [which "directs Executive departments and agencies to improve their efforts to employ Federal workers with disabilities and targeted disabilities through increased recruitment, hiring, and retention of these individuals']. So we'll have a panel, lots of panels really, addressing those issues.

Kareem A. Dale, the Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy, will be a featured speaker and will be talking about the administration’s work on Technology and Accessibility. We'll have Kathleen Martinez, Assistant Secretary of U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), we'll have a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Hearing on the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010. And much more.

Are there any free sessions?

All of those legislation special sessions will be free, they'll be open to the public, people can ask questions.

Also the exhibit halls are free, so anyone who wants to come down and try out any of the new devices that the AAC exhibitors are showing, they definitely should come down.